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Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Gulf Wars

Q: What is the president's position on Roe v. Wade?

A: He really doesn't care how people get out of New Orleans.

Blogging about current events is not necessarily my goal. But this is too much. My tendencies to pun and to find connections among disparate events flood beyond my control in times like these.

I can’t avoid seeing deep meaning in the “Gulfs” which are in the headlines. I see too many of them. We have been at war in The Persian Gulf for more than a decade. Now nature dumped The Gulf of Mexico into the Mississippi Delta, exposing more gulfs — like the chasm between middle class Americans and the permanent underclass of African Americans, Hispanics and other poor; and the ever widening gulf between our government leaders and the people. We are losing all the Gulf Wars. Maybe it foretells a sea change in American politics.

David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, sounded Friday night like an alarmist Socialist on PBS’s “Jim Lehrer Report::”

“...What you get is meteorological storms and then political storms because in moments of extremis people see who's up and who's down, who's at fault and who is suffering. So, for example in 1897 there was the famous Johnstown Flood, a pond owned by millionaires including Andrew Carnegie flooded the town of Johnstown. The public anger over that helped spawn the Progressive Movement.

“Then in 1927 you had the great Mississippi Flood, which flooded New Orleans. And there you have first of all, great demand for the government to get involved in disaster relief which had not happened much before then. And that helped lead the way to the New Deal. The town fathers flooded some of the poorer and middle class areas to relieve some of the pressure on the rest of the city and then reneged on their promises for compensation for the people who had their homes destroyed. The anger over that helped lead to the rise of Huey Long, the populist governor.

“So in moments of extremis, people see the power inequalities, the poor suffering, the rich benefitting and then they react. And so you get these political reactions.

“... I think it is a huge reaction we are about to see. I mean, first of all, they violated the social fabric, the moments of crisis you take care of the poor first. That didn't happen; it's like leaving wounded on the battlefield.

“In 9/11 you had a great surge of public confidence. Now I think we are going to see a great decline in public confidence in our institutions....”

In his NY Times column, Sept. 1, 2005, titled “The Storm After The Storm,” Brooks concluded:

“What's happening in New Orleans and Mississippi today is a human tragedy. But take a close look at the people you see wandering, devastated, around New Orleans: they are predominantly black and poor. The political disturbances are still to come.”

When I look I see President Bush offering prayer and private charity as the solutions to the stench. No doubt our President, a man of deep religious faith, will call the event an “act of God,” another Biblical Flood, perhaps even privately think it retribution for sins - not his sins, of course.


  1. YES. it is a situation more awful and maddening in so many ways, than 9/11 ever was. with all the patriotic fervor and easy finger-pointing that former disaster facilitated, this storm tore the lid (a very thin veneer, already) off all the festering inequities that comprise our social fabric, and exposed the 'truth' for all to see. will we look? i guess one has reason to feel dubious. but it certainly has been refreshing at least to see public people getting Mad - and to see their anger (of the mayor of new orleans, of the 'refugee' citizens, of the traumatized media persons, fed up with administration's rhetoric) directed against the proper enemy, for once, and actually effecting real, immediate (and maybe, eventually, longer-lasting, more structural - that's a lark) change.

  2. Your optimism is admirable. Whether this is a "watershed" is dubious in view of the depth of muck. We need a complete overhaul in attitude, a New Deal mentality, and that I fear is foreclosed by the tight grip conservatism has. The only hope is for new ideas from the Left, and so far I don't see it.