Thursday, September 15, 2005

FDR was not a used car salesman

FDR was not a used car salesman

Michael Brown, in so many ways, was the perfect FEMA director for a man like George W. Bush. Indeed, in retrospect, it seems that Mr. Brown’s lack of experience and serious shortcomings regarding his actual ability to lead a previously well thought of government organization in the serious business of disaster management and emergency response would have seemed to be a serious hindrance to his ability to command that post effectively. However, largely because he was the college buddy of George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign manager, he was chosen to head this important post. It is frightening indeed that now the grounds for appointment to a very important, high level government position, which is responsible for the life and safety of the nation’s citizens, the closest equivalent we have to a national fire and emergency services department, was given over to some guy who had never been on the nozzle of a charged line or extricated a trauma patient from a wrecked vehicle , or did something, anything, a little bit more involved with a public safety agency than just have good connections. Did Brownie even have a valid CPR card? Did he at least get a merit badge for first aid in the Boy Scouts?
It’s truly amazing that today in America, this sort of thing can happen. This is exactly what occurs in so many of those third world nations where corruption is rampant; the government is run by a bunch of hired stooges, almost always in a one party state, with a dominant if not complete control of the news media. It also brings back a time in America’s past when we were run by a monarchy, not citizens at all but subjects to the crown. Part of what the American Revolution was about most certainly liberty and justice, but it was also about the accountability of the nation’s leaders to the citizens that elected them.
A brother could say many things about Bill Clinton. Mean things. Vicious things. Very uncharitable things. And for the most part, you would be right about a lot of them. But one thing Bill Clinton was not; stupid. At least when it came to matters where he had to keep his pants on. James Lee Witt, the FEMA director under President Clinton and now hired by the governor of Louisiana to oversee the Katrina crisis, was widely lauded for his leadership by Republicans and Democrats alike when he oversaw the federal response to the Oklahoma City bombing and the North Ridge earthquake. Mr. Witt had previously overseen emergency preparedness for the state of Arkansas while Mr. Clinton was governor. This is not a defense of Bill Clinton or the Democratic Party. Senator Joseph Lieberman, (D) Conn. was the committee leader in the Senate at the time of Brown’s confirmation hearing. To read a transcript of that event is to read of a truly sickening episode of the Democrats rolling over to the Bush White House. Whether this is due to spinelessness of the Democrats or just incompetence in their own right, the fact of the matter is the opposition party failed to…well, oppose, on good grounds, a man like Michael Brown. How could a reasonable and thinking person consider Brown for even a moment for such a position? Well, George W. Bush did.
That’s how George Bush looks at the world. It’s not “Who is the best person for the job?” but “What political ideologue can I give this department to?” That is all George W. Bush knows. That is how he has gotten ahead in life, and thus that’s how he thinks he should run things, by doing favors for political bag men.

There was a day when the Democratic Party had a spine. When a man in a wheelchair provided all the courage and chutzpah to see a nation through a terrible economic collapse and a world war, all while keeping the country from being taken over by the communist party. Yes, this may come as a shock to you, but in the 1930’s the CP was something a lot of out of work and angry working class people were looking to for answers. If you think about the world in the context of that time, with Stalin consolidating power and covertly funding the American Communist Party, one alternative scenario of world history is our country being taken over by some socialist totalitarian state, not that different from Russia or even Germany of the time. Franklin Roosevelt saved America from the communists. And that is a fact.
I make the comparison to Roosevelt for a reason. George W. Bush, like FDR, is a man who was born into a wealthy family. They both come from the power elite in this country. Both overcame hardships (Roosevelt’s polio, Bush’s alcohol and drug addiction). But whereas FDR rallied a nation by appealing to its loftiest principles, Bush and his media savvy goons play to our fears and prejudice. It’s been my experience that people tend to make really bad decisions when they’re afraid and not getting the truth. Roosevelt knew, for reasons quite aside that it was the decent thing to do, that by providing huge government work and development programs he could at least get some people back to work, maybe enough to be able to ride out the great depression. He understood that government, at its root, exists to serve the interests of the nation and her citizens. And to ignore the fact that there was no work, no heat and no food for millions of Americans was to court the destruction of the United States of America. He understood that American society had changed significantly, and was no longer a country of yeoman farmers and blacksmiths. We had become a modern industrial power, with all the attendant class and social conflicts that came with it. In the high spending days of the 1920’s, the noise of that economic boom time covered up some of the more gross inequalities in our society, perhaps in much the same way that the spending and excesses of the 1990’s heralds a darker time for those of us living today. I hope not. I really do. But these days lately, I’ve been having a hard time being optimistic.
I could argue about compassion for our brothers and sisters, reverence for human rights and a desire for basic justice all day long, and while those things are worth fighting for in their own right, I could also make the assertion that money spent for the improvement of the commonwealth and it’s citizens is an investment in the kind of a society we want to create. Good schools, decent health care and affordable housing cost so much less in the long run than prisons, police departments and courts. George W. Bush talks about an ‘Ownership society.’ FDR talked about service and sacrifice, so that all may share in the promise of America. Franklin Roosevelt wanted to save a country. George W. Bush wants to sell you a used car.


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