I’ve lived through two very large national disasters now, something I couldn’t even have imagined ten years ago. Like the great majority of Americans, neither one has affected me personally or directly. I mean, I don’t live differently than before these two disasters. I didn’t lose anyone I loved. I didn’t lose anything I had worked hard for. I’ve changed in ways imperceptible to my family and friends, perhaps, known only to me. But I do think differently of America.
Following 9/11, the country in general, for the first several months, at least, hurriedly rallied to shore up the victims, and set aside political differences to face the common enemy. We set up the bucket brigade. The temperament of an old-fashioned barn-raising infused our speech and writing, television and newspaper alike. We recognized that it was best to be on the side of our good countrymen and neighbors. The benefits of pulling together were evident. Eventually the tide of political pandering and posturing came in once again, but not before we all had a nice dose of, dare I say, patriotism.
Then came Katrina and everything was different this time. It was less than a week after the hurricane that nearly every political foe of the President had decided that he had caused the disaster, and was responsible for every terrible thing that occurred during and following. State officials blamed federal officials, city officials blamed state officials, police blamed the city…and on. There were virtuous people who ignored the political sport and unselfishly gave for relief efforts. Certainly there were heroic acts by thousands in the eye of the storm. But the media could not get enough of the spirit of division, and we rapidly revealed to the rest of the world the dark underbelly of U.S. political gamesmanship to the great detriment of our citizenry and the victims of this event.
I’ve read some thoughts as to why the national and media reaction to Katrina has been so different from that of 9/11. The Twin Towers represent the rich and the victims of the flood in New Orleans were poor. President Bush was barely into his presidency then and now he’s been elected twice and should have been able to do a better job with this disaster. This disaster was forecast and 9/11, other than some blips on a radar screen, was unforeseen, so less was expected from public officials. But I see a bigger difference between these two events.
When 9/11 hit, we were all scared. Nobody saw it coming and nobody could know whether it would keep coming. The left was compelled to capitulate to the President as their leader, not because they wanted him as a leader, but because they were frightened, and when we’re frightened, we look for that leader to hold our hand and tell us we’ll be better. With Katrina, those outside the eye of the hurricane were not frightened. We knew that a hurricane wasn’t headed for Boise, Idaho or Nashville, Tennessee. I believe the biggest difference in our reaction to these two events has been the fear factor. Fear tamed the political beast for a time after 9/11. This time, the lions were roaring before the rain stopped falling--lions led by donkeys.
I think this time the real political left in America stood up all too quickly. And it’s sad for the victims of this natural disaster. It’s far easier to pull down than to build up. And it's going to take a lot of building up.