New Orleans speaks for me

In Iraq and now New Orleans, this administration suffers from a deadly lack of follow-through

Illustration By Don Button

I was watching the video coming out of New Orleans last night and had a déjà-vu moment.

I’ve seen this before, and not long ago. The looting, the lawlessness, modern office buildings burning unattended, gangs of ordinary people dragging booty along devastated streets.

Oh yeah, Baghdad after the fall of Saddam. There seems to be a trend here. In Iraq and now in New Orleans, this administration seems to suffer from post-action paralysis, a deadly lack of follow-through.

In both cases, our staggeringly expensive, well-fed, swaggering, backslapping, incestuous military-industrial infrastructure has had to pause and collect itself. What ensued was a kind of unfunny Keystone Cops/“Who’s On First” routine: “Hey, I thought you brought the fire trucks. … I don’t have the MREs. I thought General Fred was doing that. … Hey, there’s water in the streets. No one told us to bring boats.”

During this phase, those who are supposed to be in charge and taking care of business instead waste valuable time assuring us they really do know what they are doing, and are doing it. The guy where the buck used to stop, President Bush, mitigates his bumbling by repeating in a stutter that “it” (defined as anything he happens to be screwing up at the moment) is “hard.” And that because it’s “hard,” those suffering should get off his back so “I can do my job.”

CNN’s Anderson Cooper lost it. He had been in the middle of the worst of the mess for three days, comforting people and stumbling over dead bodies. He was clearly exhausted when he interviewed Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. Mary wanted to use CNN’s airtime to “thank the president for his concern” and “thank members of Congress” for pushing through a $10 billion emergency appropriation for the area. That’s when Cooper interrupted her.

“Senator, I don’t think you quite get it,” Cooper snapped. “The last thing the people down here want to hear right now is a bunch of politicians congratulating one another. People are dying down here, and they are not getting the help they need right now.”

Landrieu was clearly stunned and bumbled through the rest of the interview by saying that “there will be plenty of time later to assess blame.”

Yes, there certainly will be.

Then there is this administration’s deadly learning disability. One would think the administration had learned something in Baghdad—that the first thing you need to do in the aftermath of a war or disaster is get lots of bodies in there and reinstate law and order. Everything else—rescue, relief and rebuilding—depends on order and a secure environment.

Those big-talking neocons ignored that rule in Iraq. There was little or no post-event planning, and too few troops and equipment on the ground to deal with it, and Americans and Iraqis are still dying because of that. Now they’ve done it again, only this time right here at home.

George W. Bush likes to throw the term “accountability” around whenever he’s talking about low-ranking public servants, particularly teachers. But there’s no accountability among his own employees and appointees. Former CIA chief George Tenet should have been fired. Instead, he was given a medal. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul “Iraqi oil will pay for the war” Wolfowitz should have been fired. Instead, he was promoted to head of the World Bank. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should have been fired for his failures in Iraq. Now, he should be canned for his failure to respond to the largest natural (and human) disaster in U.S. history—but, of course, he won’t be. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a medal in this mess for Rumsfeld, too.

America has suffered many ills over the past couple of centuries but never such arrogant and incompetent leadership as this bunch. In five short years, it has: (1) looted the Treasury into insolvency and backbreaking debt; (2) invaded a sovereign nation on false pretenses; (3) traded America’s once-robust working middle class for cheap offshore, sweatshop labor; and (4) further enriched the already rich while further impoverishing the impoverished.

Now it’s extending its reverse Midas touch on the poor victims of Hurricane Katrina, as if the people have not suffered enough already.

Who is going to say “stop”? Who’s going to stand up and say these people must be prevented from doing any more damage? When will a coalition of moderate, sane members of Congress come together and decide that, if we can’t impeach this man, then let’s confine him? Come together and form a shadow government within the legislative branch. Bottle up stupid and harmful legislation while passing much-needed sensible, humane legislation. And then be ready to override the inevitable vetoes. Stop crazy people from being appointed for life to our federal courts—especially the Supreme Court.

Call it a legislative-branch coup if you must. But it’s long past time for those who know better, those in both parties, to declare the skipper incompetent and take charge. Leave him muttering and raging alone in his office, fidgeting with his ball bearings and accusing those around him of disloyalty. The time has come. The standard has been exceeded. The evidence is piled high around us.

If a president can be impeached for lying about sex, what do we do with one who has divided our nation, disrupted large parts of the world and endangered the very environment that sustains human life? Let him continue on, unfettered, for three more years? Is that our fate?

We all live in New Orleans right now.

I watched a woman trapped in New Orleans screaming on CNN, “We need help! Someone save us!”

She spoke for me, and for the nation.