Well, apparently Hurricane Irene turned out to be a dud, at least in the media’s eyes (if not in the eyes of the people in its path who are still struggling with the flooding, crop and structure damage, power losses, etc, that it caused.) I had a feeling it wasn’t going to turn out as horrible as they were predicting. Living here in Arizona, known for how hard it is on weather forecasters, I’ve come to the conclusion that the really bad storms seem to come out of nowhere. Usually on a day they predicted no storms.
When they predict and warn and commend themselves for how they are protecting us all (as if we are incapable of looking out the window and judging for ourselves) and we’d better pay attention to them, tune in, twitter in, Facebook in… I tend to yawn. After all the hooplah, the actual storms usually turn out to be anticlimactic. And so it was with Irene, if only because the hooplah was so shrill and over the top this time.
As if happened, though I experienced an interesting confluence of timing over the weekend in reading George Bush’s account of what happened during Katrina in Decision Points, at the same time as everyone was caterwauling about Irene. I thought even back when the events of Katrina were unfolding that Bush was being unfairly accused of “mismanaging” the relief efforts, and his account pretty much reinforced what I’d already concluded. He was fully aware of and concerned about Katrina, and had ordered the federal government’s Emergency Management Agency well in advance to start stockpiling food, water, medical supplies, etc, and to move in troops and helicopters as near the target areas as was safe for the aid of those who might need them after the hurricane hit.
But the feds can’t come in until state and local officials request them to do so. In Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, there was no problem, the integration between state and local authorities and federal responders operating smoothly. But in Louisiana, things were different. Even though the President asked and asked and asked Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco to let him help, she refused to give him an answer, dithering the time away until it was pretty much too late. Then everyone blamed him.
In his book he graciously took responsibility for it, but I’m still struggling to see why he should have. The whole point of state’s rights is that we have the freedom to manage our own affairs. The US is not a kingdom but a federation of states, and if state officials don’t want to accept federal aid, that is their right. They are elected officials, so if they are inept, perhaps the people they supposedly serve will not re-elect them…
With all that in my mind, it was interesting to watch President Obama this time, a man who seems to have an eerie coldness and detachment when it comes to connecting with the “little people” even when he does descend from his chariot, er… airplane… to see the damage and try to lift their spirits. Given what the media had done to Bush, it seemed clear he wanted to make sure no one could accuse him of not caring or of being too slow in providing aid. Unfortunately, for me, he seemed only to be seeking a photo-op to enhance his current campaign. Nothing about him ever seems sincere, but rather condescending.
Others affirmed and elaborated on my observation, and this excerpt from Power Line blogger John Hinderaker in his post How to Politicize a Hurricane is not only amusing but apt:
“I’m sure it’s a relief to everyone on the East Coast to know that Obama is personally directing hurricane response efforts. Never mind that he isn’t competent to organize a Little League baseball team; today’s charade obviously is a corollary of the Hurricane Katrina fiasco, in which America’s mass media committed group malpractice, somehow managing to blame the inevitable consequences of a severe weather event, magnified by incompetent local authorities in New Orleans, on the Bush administration. Obama is setting the stage to receive praise, rather than blame, no matter what actually happens between now and when Hurricane Irene blows itself out.
This is one more step in the degradation of American politics. One hundred years ago, people understood that the president had nothing to do with hurricanes. Now, the president is expected to pretend to have control over more or less everything. This has something to do with the inexorable expansion of federal power, and also something to do with the dumbing-down of the American people.”