This is the follow up post I warned you of this time last week.
So I was pretty upset by this whole Katrina disaster, especially last week as I watched our leaders dither on getting the poor folks out of New Orleans. It seemed all the more evident that our society is slowly falling apart and the chaos on the Gulf Coast was the breaking loose of a long-festering crack, creating a wider fissure in the very fabric of our national community. I am still dismayed today, having heard on the radio an independent filmmaker’s account of her experience, post flood, in one of New Orleans poorest and hardest hit neighborhoods, and what martial law in America (America!) looks like.
What is troubling to me — almost more than the rest of the events, shortcomings and failures of this disaster — is the inexcusable performance of our so-called President when we needed him most. I don’t know where the blame for unpreparedness rests, whether on the City or the State or the FEMA or the President, but this is not the failure I speak of. I speak of the embarrassing lack of leadership from Our Fearless Leader. This is what I was driving at when I compiled that chronology.
Yeah, it can be said that the President doesn’t have a whole lot of power, what with all of the checks-and-balances built into our political system, and with the bureaucracy we have in place. But a President has an amazing amount of power in terms of influence. When the President of the United States speaks, everybody listens, and when the President of the United States shows strength and says something compelling, people are compelled. The people who make up the bureaucracy, the people with resources, the people capable of action, will spring into action. So when horrible disaster strikes, and leadership is called for it is the President who has the power to set the tone, and set the course for everybody to navigate the storm.
I have never said this (heck, never even thought this) before; but, I could have done a better job on this if I had been the President. Now I’ve said it. The chronology I did didn’t go back to August 27, but that was the day that the Governor of Louisiana sent a letter to one ‘Mr. President.’ The letter said things like “I request that you declare an emergency for the State of Louisiana…” and “I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments…” (Read the whole thing, it’s a gas!)
In my opinion, upon receipt of such a letter, a President might have returned to the White House, gotten briefed by his advisors and perhaps addressed the nation. He could have said some things like “I urge the residents of the affected area to evacuate immediately,” or “There are many among you who do not have the means to evacuate. Show some concern for your fellow citizens work together and help one another. This is some serious shit. Work it out.”
Two days later on August 29th with the evacuation in progress and gridlock on the highways and people deciding to ride it out at the Superdome. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been prescient enough to urge bus and airline companies to shuttle evacuees out of the city, but, by the 31st, when people were getting scared and beginning to break into stores, the President certainly could have called upon them, “Please remain calm. There are water, food and medical supplies on the way. Forces will not be fully mobilized for another two days. In the meantime work together share what resources you have there in the city. Neighboring school departments and bus companies are urged to begin bringing bottled water and non-perishables in and evacuees out of the City. Everyone must work with the New Orleans police to coordinate these efforts and maintain order. Rest assured that there is hope, help is on the way.”
The next day when the city erupted in the chaos of fire and lawlessness and shootings, and people were beginning to revert to state-of-nature behavior, a President could have… Oh wait that wouldn’t have happened if the President had been fucking leading the country! But it did happen. And Our Fearless Leader was finally there — to offer empty, meaningless rhetoric.
Only a few days later and Our Prez was hitting on all four cylinders, putting his plan into action. Everything was back to normal. Just in time for the weekend. Thank goodness.