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In a post-Katrina about-face, Republicans suddenly don't want to play the 'blame game'

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The president came out decrying the "blame game" when it came to Katrina, as did many others in the aftermath of the storm. Right-wing talk-radio pundits immediately got on board the "no blame" express, sounding almost compassionate in their analysis of the event – which, given that "blame" is their lifeblood and dominant, if not exclusive, ideology, makes rather blatant who they really thought was responsible. Then Rove took control of the post-disaster political spin campaign, very specifically indicating that the attack should be on the Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (no paranoid conspiracy theory – this was widely reported). The "no blame" minions immediately followed suit: Within hours The Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal, and talk-radio pundits everywhere were acknowledging the lack of success of the Bush administration, but then quickly going on a full-out offensive against those they had been directed to attack. Certainly, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour was not blamed – because he's such a good lackey that he'd rather mouth the party line than worry about the actual welfare of his state.

You know one of those moments when you actually watch it raining on one side of the yard but not the other? Well, as much as I thought the buildup to and aftermath of the invasion of Iraq was the most Orwellian moment of my life – this made that look organic. Minutes after reading The New York Times' report on Rove's directive, I was listening in the car to the party line being mouthed almost religiously by politicians and radio talk-show hosts and callers.

To some extent, I'm surprised the Republicans even feel there is any blame at all. After all, this fulfills the Republicans' fondest fantasy as to government responsibility.

Let's say the Bush administration responded exactly as it should have (admittedly a straw man, as no one is saying that from any position) and the Louisiana governor and New Orleans mayor are completely at fault (even for what happened in Mississippi – I guess). In the long run, that makes very little difference. This was a natural catastrophe made into a national disaster more by long-range policies and ideological positions than any concurrent decision-making.

Hearing lefties solemnly quoting the Army Corps of Engineers as though they were the champions of environmental vision did cause me to gag, but only briefly. The disaster of New Orleans is bipartisan; Bush's failure to fund recent dike reinforcements and improvements is a relatively minor part of the problem.

We should begin with the most egregious exercise: the attempt to engineer the course of the mighty Mississippi River to accommodate urban development and expansion, as well as seagoing trade. The imperious, anti-environmental attitude toward activists that scoffs at their every notion was certainly put to very obvious tests in the past weeks. Whether there are no real consequences – as pro-development forces often argue – to the devastation of wetlands, lack of shore preservation, overdevelopment, rescinding existing environmental restrictions, and very limited zoning is now more an issue of fact than opinion.

Wednesday's Wall Street Journal editorial page (where real right-wing men crap on all taxes, piss on all environmental regulations, and get to dance nude wearing the traditional war paint of their tribe while counting its trust funds) indicted federal flood insurance as a major culprit because it encourages folks to build where they shouldn't. No arguing with that – but then they continue to trumpet the whole property rights campaign in other editorials on the same pages, taking the position that even the most obvious of environmental regulations constitute a violation of those rights rather than an act for the community good.

Okay, here it is:

Republicans are supposed to be down-to-earth, fiscally responsible, goal-oriented, and willing to make cold-blooded business decisions in the best interests of us all rather than succumbing to overly emotional, knee-jerk reactions.

Obviously, the idealist Democrats are supposed to be the opposite, substituting their utopian, humanist fantasies for cold-blooded reality.

Let's look at the record:

Instead of tax-and-spend Democrats, we have tax-cut-and-spend Republicans – are they not supposed to be the party of "There is no such thing as a free lunch"? The bills they are running up will come due, as much as they pretend they won't. Who will pay them?

They are gutting the social safety net – after all, isn't the right-wing poster child against big government a minority riding in a Cadillac bought with the money the government took from you and gave to them? What they've discovered is that, relatively speaking, the social safety net costs so little that even bankrupting it doesn't really dent the deficits they are running up.

They've passed an energy bill that will do little to lessen our dependence on foreign oil but over-rewards energy companies as they make record profits. The question I keep asking that nobody has answered is: Given that fossil fuel is a finite resource, how does it make sense to tap all our reserves right now, rather than save them against a day when they may be desperately needed? Keep in mind that when the Alaska pipeline finally opened, much of its product went to Japan, as that made the most economic sense (i.e., profit).

The transportation bill that was recently passed will be used to define "pork" for generations to come: a truly bipartisan effort, as Democrats shovel almost as many of those underneeded funds to their districts as Republicans do. Still, wouldn't the Republican Party of the past have been at least embarrassed by the Alaskan congressman who bragged of getting the funding for a $231 million bridge to an island that doesn't want it and which, when finished, will cause a trip to the mainland to take longer?

The entire world, whether in favor of the invasion or not, watched to see if we would keep our word about the rebuilding effort in Afghanistan. We didn't.

In Iraq, we had no endgame planned, nor any understanding of the internal situation at all. Think of this: We invaded a foreign country and toppled a sitting government almost entirely on the basis of ideological delusions as to consequences. If anyone tells you that this invasion was taking the war to the enemy, you should immediately try to sell them a piece of the Brooklyn Bridge as a necessary homeland security measure.

Many Americans don't want their tax money to go to the underprivileged, the ill, the mentally ill, the underemployed, and undereducated in this country. Yet they have bought the truly mind-bending fantasy that invading Iraq a) is a response to 9/11, b) will make the world safer from terror, and c) will result in a democratic Iraq, to the tune of at least a half-trillion dollars and counting. All the Iraq adventure has succeeded in doing so far is to make it the most potentially explosive spot in the Middle East right now. Now, given that Israel and the Arab nations had invested a half-century and billions of dollars to claim that position, this is a real come-from-behind surprise win for the Bush administration.

Another unanswered question: What has happened since 9/11 that would not have thrilled those 19 terrorists? Certainly, almost everything to do with Iraq – from toppling Saddam Hussein to the ever more heated civil conflict along traditional religious lines – would have them high-fiving.

It's nice to know that at least some of our leaders regard homeland security as a win. We're spending billions on ridiculous and pathetic airport security measures; we're assaulting the Constitution; were abridging individual rights – but I guess it was worth it: Just look at how the consolidated Homeland Security Department performed in its first real test, Katrina and its aftermath.

The very consolidation seems to be working especially well, as the greatest failure of the Katrina response, among many, was a lack of communication. Certainly makes me feel good about post-9/11 America.

Gutting FEMA by demoralizing the longtime professional staff with a hiring policy based on political patronage rather than experience also seems to have worked out for the right.

The ongoing argument that government does nothing and is good for nothing was proven true by its most ardent supporters' decisions and actions.

In the Sept. 5 New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote:

"But the federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government for the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming?"

More smoke is going to be blown in the next months and years around the aftermath of Katrina than we can possibly imagine. The reality is that this was a nearly scientific experiment in the consequences of smaller government, political cronyism, and the truly insane notion of the Bush administration that "As we say it is, it is – please ignore that man behind the curtain."

I'd say that those hard-nosed Republican realists were found to have their heads up their ideological butts and the knee-jerk, liberal utopian-humanist idealists called it exactly as it came down. Karl Rove, on the other hand, says forget reality; shift the blame to the governor and the mayor. Given the American public's voting inclinations over the past decade, the smart money is on Rove's take. end story

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