Seven Degrees from Normal

Two people, eighteen years of marriage, seven college degrees.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

"Not the time for blame"

Over the last few days I've gotten caught up in a listserve discussion over whether it is "appropriate" to criticize the government, president, or others over the failure of disaster relief in New Orleans. It's a frustrating discussion to follow (as listserve flashfires often are). Personally, at any other time, with any other administration, I'd probably agree with this criticism. But as things stand now, this seems like exactly the same lesson in faux ethics we got after 9/11: we must all pull together to support our country. It's the same argument we hear about Iraq: we can't criticize the war, because it would endanger the troops. Now we're told we can't criticize FEMA or President Bush because they are so busy trying to help, and our comments get in the way of people helping.

I'm sorry, but I call bullshit.

In the first place, my bitching and moaning has never had one iota of impact on the president or his policies or the federal government's ability to do whatever the hell it wants. My carping about disaster relief doesn't keep the Red Cross from bringing people water. Hell, I can't even get my husband to wear shoes, and I complain about that all the time. What's more, I am perfectly able to multitask. I can donate money online while I complain. I assume other people can too. Since donating money is all most of us can do at this stage, how are we hindering relief if we criticize while we're doing it?

How on earth does criticism, which is just people talking, for God's sake, hinder rescue efforts, which involve people actually DOING things? This seems to me like yet another conflation of thought and action--a habit that's becoming rampant in this country: You "support" the troops by putting a sticker on your car. No you don't people--let's be clear about the difference between sympathizing and actually DOING something; let's be honest about the difference between criticizing and actually HINDERING someone from acting. They ARE NOT THE SAME THING, and I for one am tired of being told they are.

The implication is that the president and our troops are so thin-skinned and vulnerable that mere criticism paralyzes them and impairs their ability to function. Give me a break. That may be true with Bush, who seems utterly unable to find fault with himself or tolerate those who find it in him. But for the vast majority of people, criticism only makes us mad, or ideally, reflective. If it stops us from doing our jobs, we don't deserve those jobs in the first place.

Which brings us back to the current situation.

Item 1: President Bush stayed on vacation until the hurricane hit, and then spent the first day while people were dying making fundraising speeches on the West coast. Why can't we say that was bad? Why can't we point out that this implies either his lack of comprehension of the situation or his lack of concern for the people involved? Let him refute these claims with his actions. If they are true and he can't refute them, he shouldn't be president. We're supposed to refrain from pointing out that a chief executive might be unfit for office because it's impolite?

Item 2: The head of FEMA, responsible for responding to disasters like Katrina, dropped the ball in ways too numerous to mention. He spent the first several days of the disaster making multiple TV appearances in which he assured incredulous newspeople that everything was under control, in direct contradiction of visible, on-the-ground evidence from the very reporters he was talking to. Doubts about this man's fitness for the job are furthered by the fact that his previous jobs were a), estate attorney, and b) legal counsel for an Arabian Horse association, which subsequently fired him for gross incomeptence. (The White House also apparently lied in the press release announcing his apppointment.) And the President appointed him to manage emergency response in a country where "Homeland Security" is the watchword.

Item 3: How many billions have we poured into Homeland Security? And this is what we get? Do YOU feel safer than you did in 2001?

At least a couple of senators want to get to the bottom of the whole sorry mess. I expect they will be labelled "unpatriotic" for "placing blame so soon after the disaster." What I want to know is, when WILL it be "appropriate" to criticize? How many more people have to die before good manners permit us to cough discreetly and suggest to our elected officials that they get their elbows off the table?


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