Who's to Blame?
It is unsurprising that some of the more nutty wingnuts on the far fringes of the Christian right would assert that Katrina was guided by the hand of God to wipe the scourge of libertine New Orleans off the map. What's less predictable is that the lefties have piled on a bit, too. I recently found myself in a a debate with a deeply cyncial friend who asserted (via email):
The lower economic class has likewise brought this upon themselves by ridiculously over-prioritizing consumerism and allowing thoroughly irresponsible Republican government to take over the South and degrade the environment in the gulf and elsewhere.To me, this smacks a little too sharply of blaming the victims. The Katrina disaster was inevitable. The GOP has self-consciously tried to gut government, to destroy the structures that support the middle- and working-classes, and to tranfer the vast wealth of the nation into the pockets of the ultra-rich. It was a fairly mundane plutocratic rebellion, akin to ones we saw in the Gilded age and in the 20s. The reason we put safety nets (including infrastructural safety nets like FEMA) into place is to prevent the ravages of disaster. The inevitability was that disaster would strike. And consequently, massive failure and insensitivity would follow. You can't be the "go fuck yourself party" without it biting you in the ass from time to time.
When Bush was elected in 2000, my co-worker Claire remarked, darkly, that "people will die because we elected this fucking idiot" (she's 63, but she swears like a drunken sailor). We tend not to have the capacity to have a large enough view to perceive consequences on that scale, but she was exactly right. This approach inevitably led to the disastrous response to Katrina.
Of course, my friend was undaunted. He replied:
Louisiana, like every other state in the South with majorities of poor working people, voted for Bush! You don't think they know the difference down there between that selfish consumerist pig and a Democrat like Kerry or Clinton or Carter? Yes, they do. I'm sick of letting people off the hook for being selfish and stupid.Populations are always subject to the forces of their povery, disconnection, dislocation, and lack of education. The crimes of humanity were always committed by the passive acquiesence of the populace. But when you're stuck in very poor circumstances, your ability to affect change in your own life is small and may appear even smaller. That half the country was snookered by Bush's bullshit doesn't strike me as particularly criminal nor mystifying. The machine that was put into place to snooker them was billions in the making, and used some of the most sophisticated propaganda the world has ever seen. And it didn't only fool the poor and disenfranchized--it fooled the fawning media (presumably educated and well-connected) who actually became the most potent instrument of the message.
Moreover, the "they voted for him" argument doesn't actually hold water. They didn't, as it happens. Louisiana had a voting age population of 3.35 million, and only 1.1 million cast a vote for W. In the parishes surrounding New Orleans, Kerry beat Bush (though just marginally), and in Orleans County, Kerry crushed Bush 78% to 22%--a greater margin than Portland. So the victims didn't resoundingly support Bush. The richies got Bush elected, and they got the hell out of town before the levee broke.
Liberals may take a dark pleasure to see Bush and the GOP self-destructing over the Katrina response. But let's not confuse the agents of destruction and those who got caught in its path. Who's to blame? The GOP, which has spent a generation trying to starve the beast of government. You can't both hate the government, run campaigns on destroying it, and then, when you're in power, shift the blame once the very government you've wrecked has failed in its central duty. The blame lies squarely and exclusively with the GOP. They wanted to kill off government. It appears they have. What remains is apparently only a facade needed for fundraising.