We’re approaching the anniversaries of our two big recent tragedies — Katrina and 9/11. Last week Digby blogged about the “Duelling Pageants” and wondered about these disasters’ relative impact on the upcoming midterm elections. Republicans are still running on 9/11 and will be pulling out all the stops for the fifth anniversary. Dems have Katrina, and for once they may have a media advantage, says Digby:
Obviously the Democrats will shine the light on Katrina as the iconic example of Bush’s mismanagement but the question will be whether the white house can control the way the press reports it. My bet is the media will want to go back and show plenty of footage of themselves down in New Orleans. They were in the middle of the story for a few days reporting on the appalling conditions when the government seemed paralyzed. They are going to want to revisit their glory days.
They will also undoubtedly do a bunch of “where are they now” stories and investigations into what has happened in the past year. I believe it’s going to be very bad for the Republicans to be reminded of their lowest moment, just before the election.
Of course, the Pugs are gonna anticipate this and will have a strategy to deal with it, which Digby discusses here.
Yesterday I reflected on the passing of September 11 as The Big Deal. There are signs the American people finally have had it up to here with 9/11 and don’t want to think about it any more. The Bushies have gone to that well a few times too many, methinks. On the other hand, although Katrina has been off the front pages for awhile, I think feelings about it nationwide are still pretty raw. And Katrina has not yet been transformed into sterile iconography, as I believe 9/11 has been transformed for most people who weren’t there. In our memories, Katrina is still hot and organic and damn messy.
Lately I’ve seen television commercials for some September 11 commemorative medallion or sculpture or some damn thing that I sincerely hope nobody buys. But can you imagine a Katrina commemorative sculpture? I’m sure someone will come up with something eventually, but I can’t imagine what it would look like. Bodies floating in flood water just aren’t inspirational.
But however the disasters are commemorated, my questions now are how will these disasters affect us long term, and which will historians say was more significant?
Of the two, September 11 was a unique sort of disaster, unlike anything else this nation has experienced; and the suddenness of it, the shock of it, gave it the bigger emotional wallop. On the other hand, in many ways it was an easier disaster to deal with than Katrina. The actual damage was contained within a few acres of lower Manhattan; the rest of the city was untouched. Further, New York is a rich and resourceful city that didn’t have to wait for federal help to take care of its own. Many people (Chris Matthews comes to mind) continue to praise Mayor Guiliani’s leadership during that crisis, and he was impressive, but the fact is he didn’t have shit to do except be on television. Had Hizzoner evaporated that day I think the city would have managed perfectly well without him.
Katrina, on the other hand, was a disaster that required excellent leadership and management, during and after, which it sure as hell didn’t get. It was a bigger disaster that presented myriad problems to be solved, many of which remain unsolved. And the states, cities and communities impacted by Katrina lacked the resources to take care of their own, and needed federal help, which in large part they are still waiting for.
The long-term significance of both disasters lies not in the disasters themselves, but in our responses to them. In that regard, right now it seems 9/11 wins the significance prize, since the Bushies used 9/11 to bleep up pretty much the entire planet. I suspect we’re going to be dealing with the responses to the response to 9/11 for many years, possibly generations, to come. Unfortunately.
On the other hand, someday historians might say that Katrina represented a more significant turning point. And I’m not just talking about George Bush’s popularity numbers.
For many years Americans were taught from infancy that the U.S. was the biggest richest strongest most advanced badass country on the motherbleeping planet; the fountainhead of wealth and science and resources and technology and cool pop culture, not to mention liberty and democracy. And after the Cold War we were the World’s Only Superpower. That makes us, like, the Supernation, the nation that can fly around flexing its muscles, admired and envied, fixing the rest of the world’s problems.
But what kind of Supernation leaves the bodies of its citizens rotting in the streets?
Someday historians may write that Katrina marked the true end of The American Century. It was the moment at which the Supernation finally came down to earth and began to recognize its own limitations and mortality. That, coupled with the squandering of our military resources in Iraq, has revealed us to be smaller, weaker, shabbier, and more vulnerable than many of us had realized. The facade may still be bright and impressive, but there’s rot underneath.
We have finally come up against our own limitations. And we smacked into ’em pretty hard.
What do you think?
Also: More ruminations on 9/11 and What It All Means by Athenae at First Draft.