Reality check

The current Republican talking points are essentially twofold: (1) the federal government really had no responsibility in the matter and we should be grateful that they finally decided to saunter in at all, and (2) this is all the fault of unprepared local officials (i.e., “New Orleans was wearing a short skirt and deserved what it got.”)

Contemplating these, I feel like the scientists pressed to argue the case for evolution over creationism in Kansas — to even acknowledge such nonsense as worthy of debate is to elevate it to a stature it surely does not deserve.

(As the right wing bloggers do their best to drive these points home, remember — these are the same people who thought that Joe Wilson “outed” his wife by publicly acknowledging the fact that he had a wife. These are the people who argued that male prostitutes wander in and out of White House press conferences all the time. Hell, these are the people who insisted that “everybody” knew that Saddam had WMD’s.)

Anyway, the Times Picayune said most of what needs to be said in its open letter to President Bush:

We heard you loud and clear Friday when you visited our devastated city and the Gulf Coast and said, “What is not working, we’re going to make it right.”
Please forgive us if we wait to see proof of your promise before believing you. But we have good reason for our skepticism.

Bienville built New Orleans where he built it for one main reason: It’s accessible. The city between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain was easy to reach in 1718.

How much easier it is to access in 2005 now that there are interstates and bridges, airports and helipads, cruise ships, barges, buses and diesel-powered trucks.

Despite the city’s multiple points of entry, our nation’s bureaucrats spent days after last week’s hurricane wringing their hands, lamenting the fact that they could neither rescue the city’s stranded victims nor bring them food, water and medical supplies.

Meanwhile there were journalists, including some who work for The Times-Picayune, going in and out of the city via the Crescent City Connection. On Thursday morning, that crew saw a caravan of 13 Wal-Mart tractor trailers headed into town to bring food, water and supplies to a dying city.

Television reporters were doing live reports from downtown New Orleans streets. Harry Connick Jr. brought in some aid Thursday, and his efforts were the focus of a “Today” show story Friday morning.

Yet, the people trained to protect our nation, the people whose job it is to quickly bring in aid were absent. Those who should have been deploying troops were singing a sad song about how our city was impossible to reach.

We’re angry, Mr. President, and we’ll be angry long after our beloved city and surrounding parishes have been pumped dry. Our people deserved rescuing. Many who could have been were not. That’s to the government’s shame.

Mayor Ray Nagin did the right thing Sunday when he allowed those with no other alternative to seek shelter from the storm inside the Louisiana Superdome. We still don’t know what the death toll is, but one thing is certain: Had the Superdome not been opened, the city’s death toll would have been higher. The toll may even have been exponentially higher.

It was clear to us by late morning Monday that many people inside the Superdome would not be returning home. It should have been clear to our government, Mr. President. So why weren’t they evacuated out of the city immediately? We learned seven years ago, when Hurricane Georges threatened, that the Dome isn’t suitable as a long-term shelter. So what did state and national officials think would happen to tens of thousands of people trapped inside with no air conditioning, overflowing toilets and dwindling amounts of food, water and other essentials?

State Rep. Karen Carter was right Friday when she said the city didn’t have but two urgent needs: “Buses! And gas!” Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially.

In a nationally televised interview Thursday night, he said his agency hadn’t known until that day that thousands of storm victims were stranded at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He gave another nationally televised interview the next morning and said, “We’ve provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they’ve gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day.”

Lies don’t get more bald-faced than that, Mr. President.

Yet, when you met with Mr. Brown Friday morning, you told him, “You’re doing a heck of a job.”

That’s unbelievable.

There were thousands of people at the Convention Center because the riverfront is high ground. The fact that so many people had reached there on foot is proof that rescue vehicles could have gotten there, too.

We, who are from New Orleans, are no less American than those who live on the Great Plains or along the Atlantic Seaboard. We’re no less important than those from the Pacific Northwest or Appalachia. Our people deserved to be rescued.

No expense should have been spared. No excuses should have been voiced. Especially not one as preposterous as the claim that New Orleans couldn’t be reached.

Mr. President, we sincerely hope you fulfill your promise to make our beloved communities work right once again.

When you do, we will be the first to applaud.

I don’t care if more “should” have been done by Mayor Nagin. I don’t care if the entire city of New Orleans was not only unprepared, but actually so staggeringly drunk that they didn’t even know a hurricane was on the way. I’m not interested in blaming the victims, or discussing why they deserved what they got. What I do want to know is, why was the federal government of the United States, which has theoretically been preparing for a catastrophic event of this scale for the past four years, utterly unprepared to respond in a timely manner to a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude? Why did babies have to die waiting for help to arrive? That’s the only relevant question — the rest of it is just Karl Rove talking points bouncing around the echo chamber.