"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government".
"To the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."
"Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack? That's a very important question and it's in the national interest that we find out what went on so we can better respond,"
-President George W. Bush.
Well, I just heard on CNN and then verified by checking Fox that Bush says he accepts responsibility for things that the federal government did wrong in the response to Katrina. This puts his more zealous supporters in awkward position. 1) A dedicated minority will now have to accept that the response was less than perfect and all the stories of problems weren't just stories made up by the "MSM". I haven't actually been able to stomach reading the posts but it's my understanding that this blogger for instance is advancing the general proposition that the federal response was a model of perfection. I wonder what he'll say now. Is Bush a Bush-hater? Has the MSM gotten to him with orbital throught-control beams or something? The mind boggles. 2) Those who are connected enough to reality to allow for the possibility that not everything was handled as completently as it could have been but were going for the popular "blame the locals" strategy now have to confront the fact that Bush is more willing to hold himself to account than they are.
As I type, I'm sure fingers are furiously pounding away at keyboards forming posts saying something to the effect that Bush is only responding to pressure from the dastardly MSM. Oh yeah, that sounds just like him all right. And isn't the fact that he never, ever does that the reason you like him? Everywhere you turn, some kind of brain malfunction or self-contradiction. Does not compute! Does not compute! etc. etc.
(I did trackback for this so if some partisan robots come over here from there, please be aware that I'm not a Bush-hater, I'm pro War on Terror including War in Iraq and I find the response of the Bush-haters on these issues to be equally tiresome. I volunteered for the 96-hour task force for Bush in New Hampshire and, obviously, voted for him, though I regret some of that now. I just think that the pro-Bush blogosphere has gotten increasingly shrill and goes to lengths to defend to Bush administration beyond even what they do themselves.)
Last night I saw on the Discovery Channel the premiere of The Flight that Fought Back, the new documentary about the heroes of United Flight 93, the "average" citizens who won the first battle in the war on terror, showing that it only took a group of Americans who didn't know each other about 90 minutes to adjust to the tactics of the enemy and defeat them. It was an amazing documentary. There was only one slight misstep towards the end when the flight-school instructor of the terrorist who acted as the pilot said something which seemed to humanize him, saying that he preferred to look at him as the nice guy in his flight class, not as a mass-murderer. Other than that, it was a straightforward pro-American documentary that didn't humanize or excuse the terrorists in any way. Real recordings of phone calls and flight recordings were used and where details couldn't be filled in a jerky, hand-held camera style and some quick editing were used to convey the panic and adrenaline of the moment, a technique which drew you deeply into the story, while not taking any final stand on matters that can't be finally decided, like who actually struck the first blow against the terrorists.
Like Sheila O'Malley I already knew the story so well going into the documentary that I knew all the names of the people like they were all old friends of mine. Having seen The Flight that Fought Back I feel even closer to these heroes and their families. Watching this show on the anniversary was the perfect September 11th memorial, a tribute to those who won the first battle in this long war.
I'd always been fascinated by New Orleans - the culture, the architecture, the food, the history, and had always wanted to take a trip there. I finally got around to taking that trip last summer and found that the culture, architecture, food, history, and everything else were everything I'd imagined they'd be and then some. The picture in the right corner of this page, my favorite picture of me ever taken, was taken in New Orleans. I began fantasizing about having a second home there, you know, someday when I could afford it, maybe even living there full-time. So, it's been especially difficult for me these last couple of weeks watching my favorite American city save New York completely decimated at a level far beyond even what New York experienced on 9/11/01 in terms of area of the city affected. New Orleans has made unique and important contributions to American popular culture through jazz, literature, and countless other forms. In fact, it's probably had the biggest impact on American culture of any city save New York, and at a fraction of the size. So anything that so damages New Orleans damages America in profound ways that frankly wouldn't obtain if we were talking about some other small city.
Part of the charm, the character of New Orleans was always the unique sensibility of the locals, a laidbackness that ultimately lead to a dysfunctionality, all rooted in the rhythms of living in a subtropical climate probably. Another factor in this laid back, devil-may-care culture was probably the fact that there was always the ready prospect of death by hurricane, leading to a constant "party like it's 1999" vibe. Consider the dark humor of calling the local drink the "hurricane". (This Michael Ledeen column about cities like Venice, Naples, and New Orleans whose culture is rooted in the constant possibility of destruction is excellent.) There have already been calls by various conservative grumps to either not rebuild New Orleans because it's too dangerous or to try to now reform it into some efficient, boring paragon of the New South like Houston or Atlanta. Both of these ideas miss the point. New Orleans must be rebuilt. There's too much cultural significance there not to. It also needs to remain New Orleans or what's the point?
The political response to Katrina's aftermath has been depressingly predictable. While Democrats all but blame Bush for the hurricane itself, the right blogosphere seeks to insulate anyone in the federal government from any possible criticism. The template here is Iraq - the idea being that things really weren't that bad it was just the "MSM' blowing things out of proportion again. Never mind that the "MSM" in this case was actually on the scene and there was no equivalent of Iraqi or soldier's blogs telling a different story, while most of the bloggers commenting were thousands of miles away with nothing to go on but their relentless hatred of the "MSM" , the same "MSM" that was basing their information on actual first-hand observation or on interviews with survivors from the Superdome or the Convention Center, our American concentration camps.
The most perceptive thing written about Katrina has already been linked to by David Brooks in his column, Ross Douthat's brilliant post on Katrina as the "Anti-9/11". I think it's more than that just that though. I think Katrina represents the end of the post 9/11 consensus.
Fourth Anniversary of 9/11
The post 9/11 consensus was really extremely brief but it did get us to Afghanistan. I still lived in Brooklyn at the time, surrounded by the most bohemian lefty people you can imagine, and I didn't know a single person who didn't want us to invade some country, it almost didn't matter which, the second after the second jet hit. The minute the debate over going into Iraq started though, this national consensus was really lost. Vestiges of it remained but now it's lost completely and utterly. It's somewhere in the toxic sludge of New Orleans.
We've now faced another cataclysm of equal power and damage to the psyche as 9/11. Though it pains some people to hear the comparison made, the feelings and images are eerily familiar. Where they are different they are worse in the case of New Orleans: eerie images of a city unlike you ever thought you'd see it, horrible unspeakable things happening that aren't supposed to happen in a major American city, missing posters and attempts to find loved ones, the entire country transfixed by the drama. Only in New Orleans you add the 80% of the city underwater, the lootings, the rapes, the lawlessness, the complete breakdown of local, state, and federal officials, the total lack of a Giuliani figure, the lack of any inspiring "I hear you, America hears you, and the men who knocked down these buildings will hear from all of us soon" moment from President Bush.
We come out of this cataclysm not a unified nation inspired by America's Mayor and America's President and by the heroism of the FDNY but a divided nation in which half of the country views the tragedy of the flawed response as a political opportunity and half of the country doesn't even acknowledge that the response was flawed to begin with. The political blogosphere has split once again exactly in two along these lines.
In the post-9/11 consensus era blogs provided welcome straight talk about terrorism and everything related to it. They provided a corrective to an "MSM" that really was too politically correct, too ignorant of world affairs and history, and too unwilling to acknowledge the existence of real evil. In this respect, a website like LGF, or I should say the far different incarnation of LGF that existed around this time, was invaluable. The simple act of linking to MEMRI's translations of the Arab press was incredibly informative and relevant, and something you'd never see done in the "MSM", even on PBS or the BBC. Blogs also provided a lot of fresh, idiosyncratic voices that couldn't be easily pigeonholed into the usual right/left Republican/Democrat categories that most pundits can.
Clearly, that was then and this is now. While in the post-9/11 era a host of blogs of all different stripes were unified around support for the War on Terror if nothing else. Now, you have pro-Bush blogs and anti-Bush blogs. I would call them conservative and liberal blogs or Republican and Democrat blogs, but really it's hard to detect an ideology beyond like or dislike (really love or hate) of the current president. Pro-Bush blogs stand by their man no matter what. And here's the strange part, they do so even on issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with the War on Terror, the grand post-9/11 blog consensus issue. They back Bush on his out-of-control spending, on Teresa Schiavo, on his abysmal response to Hurricane Katrina. And here's the even stranger part, the most gung-ho, vehement pro-Bush bloggers are nearly all post-9/11 Bush supporters, those very people who started their sites in the aftermath of 9/11 and came to support Bush solely because of his handling of the war on terror - so they said - even if they weren't easy to pigeonhole as liberals or conservatives. These same people have gone from supplying unpredictable, fresh voices to being robotic, knee-jerk pro-Bush partisans.
Maybe the blogosphere needs a single big topic to organize it or maybe 9/11 was a singular event and it could only be that. Maybe this shift in the blogosphere from unity and independent thought to rank partisanship is simply a reflection of the shift in the country or maybe it's its own development. At any rate, Katrina and blog response to it coming on the fourth anniversary of 9/11 signals the end of an era. On this fourth anniversary of 9/11 the country has now seen something roughly as terrible as that day, if not worse, and it's not something that will unify us but something that will tear us apart even further.