September 18, 2005

Post-Katrina cynicism.

Frank Rich has the essay idea of melding imagery from "The Wizard of Oz" with Katrina and its aftermath. Both begin with a big storm — tornado/hurricane — so it seems like a promising idea. And don't both involve politics? In "The Wizard of Oz," you have the big impressive leader, exposed as a sham behind a flimsy, dog-openable curtain. And in the Katrina aftermath, various political officials at various levels of government underperformed. Of course, the Wizard wasn't trying to respond to the tornado, and the various political officials who proved inadequate to the force of a hurricane had not set themselves up as phoney autocrats. They were elected officials, holding legitimate political positions, who simply failed to live up to the standard the electorate feels it deserves.

But Rich has just one key point of comparison he wants to make: Once we see the Wizard is just Professor Marvel, he can never go back to being the Wizard, and, by the same token, once President Bush — pay no attention to that mayor and governor behind the curtain — has been exposed as a fraud, nothing he can do thereafter can ever make us think of him as anything but a fraud. But, of course, this isn't true. Marvel was never a Wizard, and once we know that, we can never fall for the fakery again. But Bush really is the President, and the Presidency isn't a fraud, despite all the many mistakes the human being who tries to fill the impossibly large role will make. And Bush has made an ambitious proposal for dealing with the problems left by Katrina:
The president will ask Congress to declare the entire Gulf Coast region one big enterprise zone, qualifying for subsidized loans and tax breaks for investment and hiring. And in addition to dispatching legions of its own workers to process the paperwork, oversee the massive rebuilding effort and ensure that the billions are well spent, the government will contract thousands of private-sector workers to help them out. An estimated $200 billion in federal spending could be augmented by $60 billion in insurance payments and tens of billions of investment by individuals and firms.
Rich is dismissing all of this out of hand as just more of a pattern of indulgence in imagery and cronyism. But I get the feeling that Rich's op-ed is just more of his ongoing pattern of despising Bush, no matter what happens. Well, the little dog parted that curtain long ago. Let me turn my eyes slightly to the left — in the physical sense — and read David Brooks's column:
This is an effort to transform the gulf region, which had become a disaster zone of urban liberalism. All around the South, cities are booming, but New Orleans never did. All around the country, crime was dropping, but in New Orleans it was rising. Immigrants were flowing across the land in search of opportunity, but as Joel Kotkin has observed, few were interested in New Orleans.

Now the Bush administration is trying to change all that. That means trying to get around the corruption that made the city such a rotten place to do business. The White House is trying to do this by devising programs in which checks and benefits flow directly to recipients, not through local agencies....

His administration is going to fight a two-front war, against big government liberals and small government conservatives, but if he can devote himself to executing his policies, the Gulf Coast will be his T.V.A., the program that serves as a model for what can be done nationwide.
Is it foolish to want to be optimistic about this plan?

UPDATE: Donna Brazile went for the optimism:
The president has set a national goal and defined a national purpose. This is something I believe with all my heart: When we are united, nothing can stop us. We will not waver, we will not tire, and we will not stop until the streets are clean, every last brick has been replaced and every last family has its home back....

New Orleans will rise again. My hometown is down but not out, and with the help of every American, it will be back on its feet, bigger and brighter than ever.

Mr. President, I am ready for duty. I am ready to stir those old pots again. Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work.


Mark Daniels said...

'The Wizard of Oz' was originally written as political satire. It rails against the perceived buffoonery of William Jennings Bryan and his demagogic advocacy of the gold standard as a panacea for the economic woes of, particularly, farm folks.

I used a famous line from the book and movie in the second part of my blog series on, 'The Place of Place in Faith and Life.'

To Rich's main point: Not only does he overlook the fact that Bush really is the President, he also overlooks the American penchant for forgiveness and redemption. While we can be momentarily savage in our judgments, to the point that people may fall from favor or power, we also love to forgive. There are second acts in America and in American politics. Martha Stewart has a new prime time series. Even Richard Nixon had attained the status of "elder statesman" before he died, which must have been about the fifth "new Nixon" in the public's long relationship with him.

XWL said...

My first instinct is to ask "why are you feeding the trolls"

When it comes to the Boooosh regime (since when have U.S. Administrations been called regimes anyway?) most of the Op-Eds from the NYT are either influenced by, or subsequently spawn the commentary from the left-leaning under-bridge crowd.

My second instinct is to mutter curses for having been induced into reading something written by that clueless malcontent (I'd say Mr. Rich should go back to theater reviews, but that would be far too unkind to the theatah).

And finally, to answer the question you pose, from the perspective of the NYT Op-Ed page, yes it is not only foolish but dangerous to be optimistic about anything in any field of endeavor that involves any aspect of the federal government so long as the Bu$hHitler regime controls the reins (and I wish I was exaggerating, but sadly I'm not)

leeontheroad said...

Of course it's not foolish. As with most things, whether it happens will be a matter of the details.

I note the slippage in Brooks statement about "the gulf region" as "a failure of urban liberalism." Most of the region isn't urban or liberal. I think it's a mistake to continue to make New Orleans stand for all of the region. It's fair to note the failure of urban liberalism in a city where poverty is unabated, income disparities among the socio-economic groups have grown, and the city planners were inadequate to the task of the basic care of residents. This makes much the point of the NRO article to which you linked earlier. But, first, LA liberals are so largely in comparion to other local folk and less so in comparison to traditional bastions of liberalism. Minor point.

Larger point: I question whether deriving public revenues largely from floating casinos in Biloxi was actually a much different overall strategy than promoting tourism in New Orleans.The shrimp and oyster fisherman and many rural people in Mississippi are wiped out, too-- both small businesses and residences That had nothing to do with failures of urban liberalism, of course. And I haven't yet heard how big government conservatism is going to help those people, in specific.

Will big government conservatism fix all of this? I don't know. Since that what we're going to get, apparently, I hope so.

But within that plan are proposals to pay less than market wages to laborers. That concerns me. And I think it makes sense to watch closely whether contracts are in fact awarded to local firms to rebuild their cities and towns.

Goatwhacker said...

Rich takes the Bush/Wizard of Oz comparison only as far as it suits him. At the end of the movie, Marvel was still well-liked and respected, and the people of Oz readily forgave him. Although the point could be debated, the final impression was that Marvel was recognized to be acting in good faith and doing the best he could in a tough situation. To be fair, he did admit he wasn't much of a wizard. I don't recall any Chimpy McMarvelHitler signs in the final Oz scenes.

One could make the case all presidents are the Wizard of Oz in the sense that their persona and mystique is always much larger than the reality behind the curtain. Anyway, the point is strained, Bush is not Marvel, and presidents are not wizards. The comparison was just a convenience for Rich to make his point.

DaveG said...

Is it foolish to want to be optimistic about this plan?

No, not foolish to want to be optimistic, any more so than it was foolish to want to be optimistic about social security reform, conservative fiscal policy, etc.

It would certainly be foolish to actually be optimistic, though. Bush could have the cure for cancer and AIDS in one simple package, but the minority party, 'knowing' they simply couldn't politically afford to allow a GOP triumph over such a pressing issue, would throw roadblock after obstruction in the way of any meaningful implementation.

In other words, DC "business as usual" is our worst enemy, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

olivia1 said...

The left howls because Bush "stages" pictures with black New Orleans flood victims and the press howls because most of the flood victims are poor blacks. So if Bush had a photo op with a white NO flood victim, the press would have howled that he was discriminating against blacks. Lord, they (the lefty MSM) are just too obvious and predictable to be taken seriously any more. They weary me.

DaveG said...

In the interest of fairness, I should note that you could replace "Bush" in my comment above with any president, of either party, and the result would be the same.

Troy said...

FRank Rich has been an embarrassment for a while now. Rich/Dowd/Krugman -- the triumvirate the bitter, the vapid, and the patently dishonest. I'd go with a tin man, scraecrow, cowardly lion theme, but I'm too tired to work it out -- and I like the lion, tin man, and scarecrow.

the NYT wants us to pay fo this crap in addition to all that add revenue? Not bloody likely.

EddieP said...

The NYT is now going to charge non-subscribers to read Dowd, Krugman, Rich and the like.

That's like paying to watch snuff films.

The Tiger said...

Why do I have this funny sinking feeling that if the Republicans lose in 2008 (I really hope they won't), we'll see an outbreak of "____ derangement syndrome" among the new opposition?

Anyway, am much happier with the administration's response of late, though would much prefer, oh, a repeal of the highway bill to finance it...

Ann Althouse said...

Tiger: You can just as well look back and remember the crazy Clinton-hating. I was against Clinton hating and I have never liked seeing the Bush hating that came after it.

Charlie (Colorado) said...

Uh, Mark, you might want to re-read the Cross of Gold speech: Bryan was hardly an advocate of the gold standard.

Troy said...

Bush hating vs. Clinton-hating...

The main difference Tiger is that the Demo heavyweights partake daily in the most deranged and idiotic Bush-bashing.

Dole, Gramm, Rudman, Bush (take your pick of which), Gingrich (even), et al. never or rarely partook of any of the Clinton has people whacked theories or sold drugs out of Mena airport in Ark. etc. TRhat kind of crap regularly spout out of the pie-holes of people who sit next to Presidents at conventions, get invited by the major party to fund-raisers and by Congresspeople and Senators. That is light years beyond any sort of whiney (and wrong) Clinton-bashing.

Brando said...

Is it foolish to want to be optimistic about this plan?

um, Ann, did you notice who W put in charge of reconstruction? None other than Karl Rove. Love him or hate him, he is a political and medial strategist. His job is to maintain Republican hegemony at all costs and, given the astronomically high price tag of the reconstruction efforts proposed by Bush, the cost will be high. Look at it this way: Imagine if Bill Clinton put George Stephanopoulos in charge of reconstucting Florida communities after hurricane Floyd hit in 1999. Imagine what you’re criticism might have been then. Now, does this give you any confidence that the colossal job of actually reconstructing NOLA will be done right? If it does, then you truly are a duplicitous fool.

Ann Althouse said...

I never read anything that begins "um, Ann."

Jack Roy said...

Yeesh. So for those who have missed the political dialogue since the hurricane (and how I envy those who have), here's a synopsis:

Tweedle-Dee: It's not as bad as 9/11.
Tweedle-Dumb: It is as bad as 9/11!
President Bush: "This is a natural disaster the likes of which our country has never seen before ... New Orleans is more devastated than New York was."
Tweedle-Dumb: See?
Tweedle-Dee: But the president isn't responsible for the aftermath.
Tweedle-Dumb: The president is responsible for the aftermath!
President Bush: "To the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."
Tweedle-Dumb: See?
Tweedle-Dee: But the president's critics are paralyzed by Bush hatred!
Tweedle-Dumb-struck: [silence]
Commenters at Tweedle-Dee.blogspot: Yeah! FRank Rich has been an embarrassment for a while now! Dowd and Krugman are like snuff films!

As for the president still being the president, I suspect Frank Rich actually knows that. Professor Marvel could no longer pretend to be an actual wizard; what Rich is saying is that Bush can no longer pretend to be a good president, let alone the triumphant warrior keeping America safe from the hazards of a hostile world, courageously landing jets on aircraft carriers in his very own flight suit.

Sloanasaurus said...

I was against the whole Clinton trial as well.

However, I can really feel any remaining non-partisanship draining out of me. I can understand the opposition to the iraw war etc... However, in my opinion, the democratic demagoguery over Katrina has done far more to damage reconciliation than Iraq.

The Hitchens/Galloway debate shows how Katrina is being used by the left in an all time low.

It's not over yet either. Every little mistake by some low level civil servant will be cited by the media and the left as a failure of the Bush administration. It will get nasty so nasty....

The Democrats are asking for masochism. And they will get it.

Mark Daniels said...

I agree with the commenter who says that it isn't foolish to want to be optimistic about this plan.

But I am concerned about federal dollars being used for rebuilding New Orleans, money that could probably be more profitably spent elsewhere. Help people rebuild their lives. Preserve the French Quarter. But I wonder about rebuilding New Orleans to its pre-Katrina state.

I'm further concerned about impact this program will have on the deficit.

It appears to me that the President is making the same mistake made by another Chief Executive from Texas, Lyndon Johnson: Acting as though the federal government has an endless supply of cash for guns and butter.

Larry said...

Rich, of course, is merely predictable. The interesting thing here is Brooks' column, which tries to make the case, on a more abstract level, that there is something other than both "big government liberalism" and "antigovernment libertarianism", and that Bush is its representative. In Brooks' terms: "[Bush]'s been willing to spend heaps of federal dollars, but he wants that spending to go to programs that enhance individual initiative and personal responsibility."

I'd say, in the first place, that it's a misrepresentation of libertarianism to tag it as simply "antigovernment" -- "appropriate government" would be more like it, with the understanding that that means a focus on areas where government is necessary. And I'm not certain that this sort of "big government conservatism" is really a viable, or even coherent entity -- isn't there a conflict between the spending of "heaps of federal dollars" (which first have to be taken out of individual's pockets), and the enhancement of "individual initiative and personal responsibility"?

But disaster relief and recovery is certainly an area in which government response is appropriate, so at the very least Brooks is both right and insightful that the aftermath of Katrina will be the most important test for what he calls Bush's "instinctive framework".

StrangerInTheseParts said...

The pleasure of Ann's blog remains the fact that she freely and openly documents the ever-changing alchemy/paradoxes of her sympathies versus her reason.

Humble prediction:

Ann defended and adored The Daily Show for months and months after it was obvious that the show no longer really spoke to her. Then one day, oops!, she suddenly saw the show for what it was and her opinions for what they were, and the 2 have parted company.

So it shall be with Bush... something's going to come along and all the fine, noble reasons Ann keeps appealing to in order to stand with the president will fall to the way side. She will see him for what he is, and her opinions and standards for what they are, and the 2 shall part company.

Gene C Evans said...

"But within that plan are proposals to pay less than market wages to laborers. That concerns me. And I think it makes sense to watch closely whether contracts are in fact awarded to local firms to rebuild their cities and towns."

How is it possible to pay less than market wages and still get people to work for you instead of the businesses who are paying market wages?
And why should local firms get preferential treatment if they are not the low bidders? That sounds like corporate welfare to me :)


Walter said...

This whole meme that people will be paid less than market wages is a smoke screen for what is actually happening. For decades, the Federal government has set the Davis-Bacon wage to the union standards rather than the market averages [That was and continues to be the real point of the Davis-Bacon Act].

Now that the Federal Government has suspended the requirement that public works contracts pay at union rates, the ability of contractors to complete on price has the unions, their workers, and captive companies worried about the new competion.