Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Thoughts About Hurricane Katrina While It Was Happening

by Neil H. Buchanan

Almost ten years ago today, sitting in shock in front of my computer screen as I tried to make sense of reports of what was happening in New Orleans, I posted on a now-defunct academic blog some very raw reactions to the unfolding catastrophe.  As the world thinks anew about the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina, I have decided to reprint my post, "Tell Us Again," without further comment.
Tell us again that government is the problem, that things will be perfect if we just shrink our governments down to nothing and allow the wonders of private enterprise to solve all of our problems.  As we look in horror at the grisly results of under-funded and ignored public works projects, we need to hear again the song that lulled us to sleep for decades, telling us that we will all be better off if we vilify and ridicule all government programs.  Surveying the terrible human cost of a monumental failure to plan for an emergency that was not only predictable but predicted, we need to hear again that the invisible hand is the best planner and that government planning will inevitably make matters worse.
Tell us again that poverty does not matter.  We loved hearing that people living on welfare really had it pretty good, that they were driving around in Cadillacs, that the poverty line had been manipulated by liberal professors to inflate the amount of money going to undeserving people who refused to get a decent job.  When we worried that maybe some people really could not live on minimum wage incomes (even supplemented by what remained of the safety net), we loved being told that poverty does not matter because over time some people move out of poverty and into higher income groups.  Sure, at any given time, there might be poor people, but we were happy to hear that they need not be stuck there for a terribly long time.  The people who died last week because they were too poor to leave the path of disaster might have had a shot at middle class status one day.  Or the kids that they might have raised might have had a shot.  Maybe.  Let us hear that one again.  It sounded so good.
Tell us again that discussing race is a divisive ploy, that the civil rights gains of the sixties ended any real need to address lingering issues of racial disadvantage in our country.  We long for the voices that told us how racial discrimination was a thing of the past, that political concerns about race were cynical attempts to create guilty consciences in innocent hearts and minds, that there is no longer institutionalized racism, that nominally color-blind laws mean that we really live in a color-blind society.  Seeing the faces of the most stricken victims of the disaster, we must be reminded that racism has been defeated.  We need to hear that story again.
Tell us again that sending ill-equipped national guard troops to die abroad had no downside at home.  Tell us again that public spending is a waste.  Tell us again what a great idea it is to have guns in the hands of millions of people, so that they will be safe from their government.  Tell us again that the federal government is not needed because local and state governments should handle their own affairs.  Tell us again that one state’s problems are of no concern to people in other states.  Tell us again that we can have anything we want and not have to pay for it.  Tell us again that the most important policy is always, always to cut taxes for rich people.
Tell us again that we were smart to have a nonstop tax-cutting, safety-net-shredding party, even while we ignored warning after warning that the costs of our irresponsibility would be incalculable.  Looking helplessly on as the death count begins, as the damage is assessed, as the most shameless politicians continue to pretend that nothing has changed, we need to hear one more time that all of this really was a great idea.
Tell us again.  Please.


Michael C. Dorf said...

There was a very good episode of This American Life this week on the Lower 9th Ward ten years later showing how many of these problems persist even today: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/565/lower-9-10

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