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September 16, 2005

Reality Testing Yubbledew: Election '04 to Katrina

Recent polls show that a majority of Americans are not satisfied with the Bush administration's response to hurricane Katrina. Some are saying that the response was so bad it's caused some sort of crisis of confidence in the ability of our government to do the right thing and protect American values and interests in times of great stress.

Of course, I'm thrilled that my fellow Americans are finally waking up to the fact that this administration is not only incompetent but nearly pathologically focused on its own agenda and interests at the expense of what's best for the American people and the rest of the world. Thank goodness people are finally waking up!

But, um, how is it that an administration can start a war based on lies, send thousands of American soldiers to their deaths, be responsible for killing thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens, and increase hostility against the U.S. all around the world because of all this aggression—how is it that this administration could do all this and still win the 2004 election!? And why now, after the tragic lack of response to hurricane Katrina, are Americans finally saying “enough!”?

I think I understand this apparent mystery, but I'm not sure. First, a little psychoanalysis for you:

When people of normal intelligence behave in a way that rejects what they experience as real, it requires some explanation. Psychoanalytic theory assumes that inadequacy in reality-testing fulfills a psychological function, usually the preservation of an attitude basic to the individual's makeup. If inadequate reality-testing threatens to undermine such [a] functionally significant attitude, it is avoided.

Charles R. Lawrence III, The Id, the Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning With Unconscious Racism, 39 Stan. L. Rev. 317, 332 (Jan. 1987).

This is basically what I said after the 2004 presidential election—the horror of what the Bush administration had done in its first term was so great it created a sort of paralysis on the part of those who could sort of see what was going on. If there's a silver lining in the federal government's completely inept response to hurricane Katrina, it's that a majority of Americans finally became—at least for a few days—so shocked, so appalled, so horrified that the defensive mechanism that had previously forced them to deny how awful this administration is turned around and urged them to demand some accountability.

Bush's approval rating is now at an all-time low. How long will it be before our overly-developed psychological coping mechanisms overcome our critical faculties once more? Bush has now promised to spend “unprecedented amounts” of federal money to help rebuild the region affected by the hurricane. Can he buy his way out of this? And do we really want that, knowing that this administration has demonstrated that its number one spending priority seems to be to transfer as much federal money as possible into the hands of private corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel? In addition, it has already said that workers hired in the rebuilding effort will have to work for substandard wages. From where I sit, Bush's speech last night can do nothing to change the fact that this administration doesn't care about the average American; it cares about the corporate American, the only “person” it will ever love.

Be that as it may, the question remains: Why did Katrina wake a majority of Americans up when the Iraq war didn't? Does it have anything to do w/coping and repression? Was the horror of the lack of response to Katrina somehow greater than the horror of waging a war of aggression based on lies? If so, what would that say about our country? Or is it simply that the horror of the lack of response to Katrina was so immediate and obvious and unambiguous, whereas people were able to construct some sort of plausible rationale for accepting Bush's war?

Posted September 16, 2005 09:10 AM | election 2004 general politics

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You're asking the same questions that have been floating around in my head for a while, but that I haven't been able to articulate. Now that you've done it, it's time to start thinking about the answers.

It could be that Katrina was just the straw that broke the camel's back. Bush's popularity was sinking fast before the hurricane, and everyone was acknowledging that the Iraq war had lost the support of a majority of Americans. On this account, there isn't anything special about Katrina.

Another possibility is that Katrina is somehow different from the Iraq war. We should be more precise, though, about what we're comparing: the response to 9-11 (Iraq war) and the response to Katrina (bumbling, and now some massive federal spending along with yet-to-be determined conservative pet projects).

My own guess is that for too many Americans, the distinctions between al qaeda and Saddam, between terrorism and WMDs, and between national security and aggressive wars, were just too subtle. Sorry, the American people were just too damned credulous. We only started to complain when the Iraq war started to drag on without an obvious victory.

The whole issue of WMD "lies" is a triviality for most folks. We're only disappointed that Bush said he'd kick some Middle Eastern butt, and he looks to be dithering around instead.

The response to Katrina is different (so far) because we wanted to see Heroic Action, and we didn't. We saw Americans suffering, and we didn't get a declaration of "war" from Bush.

The new white house initiatives to spend foolishly and to sneak in their pet conservative projects may still rescue Bush. So long as he can look like he's taking action, the public won't care much about whether the action is appropriate (cf., the invasion of Iraq).

Posted by: Carey at September 16, 2005 11:54 AM

Here is what no one is including in the debate on the response to Katrina.

First, people assume that the National government is the best entity to respond to this type of event. Yet, nobody looks at the state or local governments to see who is responsible when they are closest to the action and know best what they need.

Second, by adding a chain of responders (Federal government) it slows response because more layers become involved.

Concession: The federal government, in recent years has assumed control of these events and it all worked out before. We assume too much now. After 9/11 the government looked really hard at disaster response and how to do it. Things were tweeked. If everything would have happened great in response to Katrina then no one would have even thought that it was a result of post 9/11 planning. This response was developed by experts and not politicians. Politicians will inevitably make the decisions on when to initiate, but it is too early to tell who is responsible in this case.

My opinion: I think there was a long chain of mistakes where not one single correction would have made a difference. We need to cut the fat out of the response to natural disasters and not rely on Washington to take initiative. States and local communities need to have responses set up that do not rely on the national government to support them with food, water, money, or troops. I'm sure there will be mistakes that experts will point to within the Bush administration. I think he did make one big mistake by not taking the leadership of it earlier. I don't think that should be the President's role, but since we are in a period where he is the only place people are looking to, he screwed up.

This may be a little disjointed and incoherent but I think everyone might get the idea.

Posted by: Reckless Murder at September 17, 2005 01:16 AM

Too bad that the second term means none of this will have any influence on anything.

Posted by: Elevator Ride at September 17, 2005 10:26 PM

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