Politics & Policy

Katrina, &C.

I should say something about Katrina, but I’ve written a piece for the print magazine (forthcoming issue), and I should not keep you long on the subject. There are about 80 themes to be pondered, in the wake of this catastrophe.

My piece is about what might be called, broadly, the Left reaction to Katrina–and the automatic Bush-hatred we witnessed. Perhaps I should say the automatic intensification of Bush-hatred. It’s remarkable that the first response of many, to this killer hurricane, was to revile George Bush. But there you have it. As Paul Johnson and others have written, this is a deep disorder.

And have you noticed that global warming has become kind of a catch-all explanation–I mean, an all-explaining phenomenon, or theory? As I note in this piece, it is an idée fixe, a dogma for every season. Nothing can occur in nature that is not attributed to global warming. We have here a universal bogey. Just as the Jew is both a communist and a capitalist, and the American both a materialist and a puritan, global warming is responsible for both heat and cold, for both drought and flood–whatever mean Mama Nature happens to be doing.

When he speechifies about global warming, Al Gore will say, “We’ve been having some weird weather lately, haven’t we?” Sometimes he’ll ask for a show of hands: “Anyone noticed some weird weather lately?” That word “weird” covers a multitude of conditions.

In my opinion, the uses of global warming in the Katrina aftermath have been despicable–you know, Haley Barbour is responsible for the devastation in his state, because he urged the Bush administration to reject the Kyoto Protocol. That kind of thing. You don’t know whether to be amazed or depressed.

And, as usual, the most heartbreaking aspect of the crisis is race–race, that eternal sore. Is there no issue of American life that race won’t eat into? I remember I must have written five pieces about race and the Lewinsky affair, during those short years. (The president made masterly use of race.) Color simply infects everything.

In this forthcoming issue of ours, we have a splendid essay by Theodore Dalrymple, analyzing the breakdown of order–indeed, of civilization. Dalrymple writes,

Most of the looters look bitter, angry, resentful, and vengeful as they go about what British burglars are inclined (in all seriousness) to call their “work.” The gangs are reported to have used racial taunts during their depredations. In all probability, the looters believe that, in removing as much as they can from stores, they are not so much stealing as performing acts of restitution or compensatory justice for wrongs received. They are not wronging the owners of the stores; on the contrary, the owners of the stores have wronged them over the years by restricting their access to the goods they covet and to which they believe they have a right. The hurricane has thus given them the opportunity to take justice into their own hands and settle old scores.

Too speculative for you? In a Mark Steyn column, I found this quote, culled from the Associated Press: “People who are oppressed all their lives, man, it’s an opportunity to get back at society.” So said a looter named Mike Franklin.

You’ve got to be carefully taught–someone must place such a notion in your head. I will never forget–even as millions of news items go down the memory hole–what a gang member said after he and his friends raped a girl: “This was in response to 400 years of oppression.” My thoughts went immediately to the adults who had instilled this lesson.

For years, I wrote piece after piece about race and its poison, thinking that this was the most important problem before us. Then 9/11 and associated events occurred, and one forgot for a while–rather, I forgot. But no, this is a dagger at our hearts, race. When hasn’t it been?

A brief word about George W. Bush, and the tendency to pin Katrina on him. I always thought one of the cruelest terms ever invented was “Hooverville.” A Hooverville, as you know, was a camp for the destitute during the Depression. There was never a more humane man in politics than our 31st president, Herbert Hoover. And to do that to him . . .

I thought about this when I heard that some people were referring to flooded New Orleans as “Lake George.”

And yet I should end this dark Katrina section with something lighter–something more hopeful. Couple of days ago, I talked with a man from Biloxi, Miss., who is a frequent cruiser of ours. (A passenger on the NR cruises.) He and his family lost all their homes, but no lives and no limbs, and I wish you could have heard the dignity and forbearance in his voice, over the phone. That voice was chockfull of grace. Some people impress you, even as others dishearten you. We should stick to the former, eh?

‐Complete shift of gears: Some time ago, I read a David Letterman Top Ten list, and clipped it for y’all. I realize that these are just jokes, the Top Ten, and goodness knows, we all love them. But please bear with me.

The topic is “Top Ten Signs Your Kid Is Spending Too Much Time on the Internet.” And one of the items is, “Sitting alone in a room has left him with the people skills of Dick Cheney.”

Again, I know these are jokes–”Lighten up, Jay!”–but just let me point out that Dick Cheney has phenomenally good people skills. And how could he have enjoyed his career, if not? A wunderkind in the Nixon administration. Chief of staff to Ford. Congressman from Wyoming. Up the House leadership pole. Secretary of defense. CEO. Veep nominee, twice. Etc., etc. I mean, you really don’t do these things–you don’t have a glittering political career–without people skills.

It’s just common sense.

Okay, I’m done with lecturing/fuming (till the next item).

‐Do you remember how, a few columns ago, I said I’d give a rant on air travel, but didn’t manage to follow through? Well, let me give kind of a condensed–calmer–version of the rant I was thinking of delivering.

I had, not long ago, a particularly trying 24 hours of travel. When I got to Kennedy Airport–Delta terminal–there was a huge line outside, in 95-degree heat. It was about an hour before I reached the counter. Much more time for the security clearance, and then for boarding. That’s a lot of standing.

At Charles de Gaulle Airport, in Paris. Long bus ride from the plane to the terminal. Then racing, racing, racing–running–to catch my connection to Salzburg. But oops–no boarding pass. That hadn’t been supplied in New York. (Technical reasons.) Have to stand at the Transfer Desk, for about 45 minutes.

No more planes to Salzburg that day. Have to go to Frankfurt, and, in Paris, this involves more lines, more schlepping, more waiting. Once in Frankfurt, a lot more standing–tons more standing–and a lot more waiting. Finally, to Salzburg. No luggage, of course–despite repeated assurances that it would be there.

And I guess I’ll skip describing the return trip, which was almost as bad, but not quite (another missed connection, no fault of the passengers).

Okay, my point? Just griping, about difficulties that every traveler faces? No. Rather, two points: Why aren’t airlines more interested in serving their customers? Why do customers complain so little, or so unavailingly? Why isn’t the market working here? (I understand that JetBlue, and some others, serve as exceptions. For some reason, I am unable to fly those airlines.)

But my more important point: I don’t see how the elderly, or the infirm, do it. I mean, the sheer physical arduousness of my trip was amazing–all that strength and stamina needed, and so little sleep afforded. (It would be hard enough to do the necessary after a night’s rest.) How do older or weaker people manage these multi-legged trips? I kept thinking that, the whole time: Sure, I could do it, lucky me–the standing and the racing. But what about those more challenged?

I told you, in that original column, that journalists were always using their platform to kvetch about air travel. It’s almost like quoting your cabbie–we’re all guilty. But I will not sin again until it’s really, really necessary.

(I note here that some of WFB’s best columns over the years have been about air travel–and these columns have been banged out while the author was in airport terminals, suffering, stewing, and thinking.)

‐A group in New York, Alarm Will Sound, uses an encomium from the New York Times: “the future of classical music.”

I think of one of my favorite Reagan stories: While governor, he is on one of the California campuses, leaving a regents’ meeting. And a student mob surrounds his car. They are chanting, “We are the future! We are the future!” Reagan reaches for a notepad, scribbles something on it, and puts it to the window: “I’ll sell my bonds.”

‐Runnin’ late here, so I’ll give you some quotes and wrap up:

In the category of Only Paul Johnson Could Have Written This:

I used to like Murdoch, whom I saw as a useful freebooter, likely to settle the hash of the domineering print unions (as he did). I even had him to my house. But then he threw away the fruits of victory over the print unions by committing the Times to a costly price war with the Telegraph, which effectively ruined both papers and has now ended quality journalism in London. He is a classic example of a man corrupted by power.

He is also an example of the dangers of lust in the elderly.

I just wanted to get to that last line, or phrase: “the dangers of lust in the elderly.” Only Johnson could have written it.

In the category of Only Thomas Sowell Could Have Written This (of course, half his sentences apply here):

The facts [about Hiroshima and Nagasaki] may deprive the revisionists of their platform for lashing out at America and for the ego trip of moral preening but, fear not, they will find or manufacture other occasions for that. The rest of us need to understand what irresponsible frauds they are–and how the stakes are too high to let the 4th estate succeed as a 5th column undermining the society on which our children and grandchildren’s security will depend.

The British columnist and parliamentarian Michael Gove wrote something funny: “I’m at a loss to explain what the evolutionary reason for male fascination with maps may be, but show me a man who doesn’t enjoy route-planning with a 2005 superscale Great Britain A-Z and I’ll show you his collection of Barbra Streisand records.”

And finally, I wanted to give you a reader letter:


You often say that Bush is an original–love him or hate him, he is entirely an original, and completely himself. And when he’s gone, we won’t see his like again.

That is so true. I often wince at his comments, but at the same time I have so much respect for his approach. Like you said, he isn’t trying to crown his résumé with the presidency gig.

Anyway, I heard something on NPR this weekend about a 9/11 widow. She was a staunch Democrat, hated Bush’s policies. She lost her husband, who was a fireman, and also her father (or someone else close–I can’t remember now). Bush was quoted as saying, “Oh, she got the double whammy,” right to her face in a receiving line, after she was introduced to him as having lost two family members.

Now, I can certainly see why many people would think he is a complete idiot. That is a stupid thing to say. But, coming from him, put in the context of how he says things . . . I just smiled and nodded my head. There will never be another one like him. There is no way to ever explain to someone who hates him why this statement isn’t stupid, and why it is actually touching (to me, a reluctant fan of his), in a bizarre way. That gulf cannot be bridged.

Know what he means.

Thanks for your time, and I’ll talk to you soon.


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