As New Orleans took on the atmospherics of a John Carpenter movie, George W. Bush, a man reluctant to distinguish between desperation and lawlessness, much less make the connection between the two, proved at last he is his father's son.
Thirteen years earlier George Bush the Elder saw a black population mired in poverty and alienation riot after a California jury blithely acquitted the posse of Los Angeles cops who beat Rodney King half to death. His response was to deliver an indignant speech about law and order, proving only that he was blind to the nuances of plain justice.
Last week, with the poor stranded on rooftops, then huddled, hungry and abandoned inside a leaking stadium and a sweltering convention center, George the Lesser watched in seeming amazement when they ran riot. First came looting born of hunger and thirst when a federal government adept at moving armies to a foreign desert for a fraudulent war proved incapable of shipping food and medicine across state lines for a flooded city.
By week's end gunshots and rapine broke loose. Enraged and unfed victims, many too poor to reach the high ground available to wealthier New Orleans suburbanites, turned on their keepers. That is all they had -- keepers. Only someone who shows up with nourishment and medicine can be called a savior, and the saviors of the Department of Homeland Security seemed oblivious to the depth of the plight in the Delta. A reporter for National Public Radio, the administration's designated Voice of Satan, could not convince Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff, the man responsible for knowing such things, that the Convention Center was a place of starvation, with human bodies discarded in open view.
Bush the Younger? He made a statement decrying all looting, drawing no distinction between hooligans who grabbed televisions for which there was no electricity and frantic parents swiping bread from broken store windows after the fashion of Jean Valjean. Informed that gasoline had spiked to $3 a gallon, Bush, who returned home from a one-month vacation aboard a 747 jumbo jet amd travels by armored limousine, told people not to purchase gasoline unless they needed it. In a country in which mobility had just been shown to be the difference between life and death, Bush's answer was to tell people not to buy what they inevitably will need.
The facile idiocy did not stop at an executive branch run by a man congenitally unable to comprehend the plight of anyone living below six figures.
Dennis Hastert, the tone-deaf speaker of the House, gave an interview to the hometown newspaper in which he said he saw no sense in using federal dollars to rebuild New Orleans because it lies seven feet below sea level. Hastert, who previously distinguished himself by once blocking the appointment of a Catholic as chaplain of the House of Representatives, said such a thing about the predominantly Catholic and black and multicultural city to which dispossessed Acadians of Canada were banished by their Anglo conquerors. Possibly, when Venice next floods, Hastert will instruct the archbishop to abandon the place and move to Prussia.
Bush has shown, first in a distant land, where the corpses are foreign, and from which dead Americans can be smuggled home with photographers banned, and now, inside his own borders, that he has no grasp of how policy and outcome are interconnected. Consider his words as New Orleans swamped and its poorest and least stable population sweltered, starved and then broke into the equivalent of a prison uprising:
"We view this storm as a temporary disruption that is being addressed by the government and by the private sector." On Thursday he denounced looting and insurance fraud. Think about it: Ordinary people were so locked in anarchy and helplessness they stole food as the more venal among them stole guns and shot at aid helicopters. The president denounced insurance fraud. He might as well have weighed in on poaching while he was at it.
Invited to criticize oil companies for price gouging, he instead suggested they donate to hurricane relief. Four years earlier, as the government rushed aid, medicine, rescuers and insurance to the high-rent district of New York, Bush had a license he chose not to use. It was the moment to tell his nation that it was time to set a crisis deadline to free the country of its need for the Mideast oil that gave root to 9/11, just as it now gives wing to the sudden shortage of gasoline created by a single hurricane.
With 15 of the 19 hijackers carrying Saudi passports, Bush still couldn't bring himself to part with his old business associates. Now, with the last of Hurricane Katrina soaking into the lawns of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, George W. Bush is as powerless to do anything about the spike in gasoline prices as he is incompetent to resolve the anarchy loosed upon one of his treasured red states by fiat of nature. And he will never see the connection. It's his nature. It is the nature of a patrician lad unwilling to recognize that his foreign friends are the enemies of his people.
It took a hurricane out of the Old Testament to send that message and still a man who routinely behaves as if he is Moses will not climb the mountain to hear the message.
Dennis Roddy is a Post-Gazette columnist, firstname.lastname@example.org .