Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Culpability of the Right

According to CNN, real aid is finally starting to arrive in New Orleans. Praise the Lord I don't believe in. Hopefully, the supplies will get to the neediest people in time to help. Nevertheless, almost everybody paying attention to the situation in New Orleans is disgusted with the Bush administration. The conservatism-uber-alles crowd has thrown out the usual distractions, but it isn't working. When the right plays the race card in relation to looters, audiences are disgusted by their rock-bottom racism. When the right "asks questions" about the feasibility of federal assistance, people are just as disgusted by the right's lack of concern for the public good. If conservatives cared about the disaster in New Orleans, they would follow the rest of the country in demanding a high standard from the federal government in a time of need. But conservatives are much more concerned with the political fortunes of the Republican Party than they are with the welfare of the country. So, they fruitlessly seek to defer accountability to a distant future.

Conservatives are right to delay the reckoning that should come as a result of the sickening government performance in New Orleans. This is because it is the conservative movement that is one of the root causes of the Bush administration's bungling in the Big Easy. Of course, the Bush administration has failed massively. Even though it has been known that a large hurricane would hit New Orleans since last Friday or Saturday, FEMA was unprepared, no National Guard units were on standby, little effort was made to procure supplies, and there seemed to be no contingency planning. It also turned out that the budget for flood-control in New Orleans had been cut by $60 or $70 million and no work had been done on the levees for the first time in 37 years. Why the lack of preparedness? A lot of people point to the commitment of manpower and resources to Iraq. To me, that's only a small part of the answer. The administration has been purposefully shortchanging urban areas like New York and New Orleans on disaster and terrorism preparation since 9-11, i. e, well before the Iraq invasion. Because of their right-wing allegiances, the Bush administration believes in minimum domestic government. To prepare areas like New Orleans for fighting off terrorist attacks or natural disasters means creating a larger domestic bureaucracy and hiring thousands of civil servants. The Bush administration did not want this for ideological purposes. The Bush administration and it's conservative supporters also view the rural parts of the country as the "real America"--the heartland-- and see the cities almost as foreign countries. So it doesn't want to spend domestic money in these areas even if it is forced to spend money. Finally, it doesn't help that urban areas consistently Democratic either.

The other reason why the Bush administration ignored the New Orleans levees, ignored FEMA, and ignored disaster preparation has to do with politics. The price for getting controversial legislation like the Medicare drug assistance program through Congress has been increasing the pork barrel largesse for Republican members of Congress. As a result, the Bush administration has been directing even more federal spending to rural red-states than usual. For example, my university in Kentucky got a $400,000 space science center courtesy of Republican Hal Rogers. The only problem is that NASA had cancelled the program that the center was supposed to be used for. Needless to say, that didn't stop money being spent in Rogers' district in Eastern Kentucky. The space center project in Morehead is part of the non-stop party that the Republicans and the Bush administration have been having with the federal treasury since Bush's first election in 2000. As a result, people have been dying in New Orleans so that Republican representatives from states like Kentucky and Nebraska can have enhanced pork barrel projects.

What about the political right in general? There are at least two reasons why the conservative movement in general is culpable for the disaster in New Orleans. First, conservatives have been attacking the taxing capacity of both federal and state governments for more than a generation. Because of conservative political successes, both parties have been afraid to vote for the taxes needed to support on-going projects like New Orleans disaster. As taxes have been cut, cut, cut, federal and state governments have become less and less capable of doing on-going maintenance of harbors, dams, bridges, air traffic control systems, and other large-scale infrastructure. In New Orleans, the levee system was not upgraded as more Level 4 and 5 hurricanes developed over the last few years. When the levees were ruptured, underfunded state and federal disaster programs were not capable of meeting either immediate or long-term needs. Because of conservative pressure on government to stop raising and spending money, the funds needed to maintain domestic infrastructure have not been spent and we've lost both a major city and a significant chunk of our oil refining capacity. Conservatives have also undermined national unity so much that people care less about what happens to fellow citizens in places like New Orleans. Neo-conservatives and conservatives have been in a constant state of war with blacks, popular culture, liberals, Congressional Democrats, gays, the state department, and the judiciary system for more than a decade now. The constant battling has worn down the commitment of most Americans to the civic culture that allows people in Idaho to be concerned about the levees in New Orleans, the Statue of Liberty in New York, orange growers in Florida, and wheat farmers in Oklahoma. Consequently, it is more difficult to get consensus on large scale infrastructure projects that serve particular regions. The bitterness of conservatives--they're sore winners even after their victories--has poisoned the well of American political culture. One of the permutations of that damaged culture is the disaster in New Orleans


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