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Katrina unmasked the reality of Republican 'revolution'

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I

Katrina reshaped the landscape in many ways, leveling the land and changing the political climate. A somewhat welcome change, among so many tragic ones, is that at last the new right has abandoned the outsider posturing that has marked it over the last decades, in which it pretended to be a revolutionary moral movement. Taking Rush Limbaugh as the most easily accessed symbol of the public emergence of the current conservative revolution provides a way at looking at several crucial inspirations. Most important, he was funny, bringing to his commentary a wit and a style more associated with the political comics of the left. Both bombastic and self-deprecating, he provided "a voice to the voiceless." Actually, that last phrase indicates the underlying ideological strategic brilliance of Limbaugh and gang. The idea was to position the conservative right as the embattled, outnumbered, and overwhelmed minority determined to preserve the basic tenets of America and the Constitution against the godless, clueless, bleeding-heart liberal hordes. Crucial to bringing this home was the deliberate misuse of the traditional rhetoric of the left, coupled with a manipulation of semantics that consciously uses words to mean their opposites. Intentionality is not the point here; many of these things were done quite consciously, but I neither buy nor want to sell a more elaborate conspiracy theory.


II

Angry, outraged, or very engaged people are more likely to vote. Ignoring the history of this country, which has always been more conservative than moderate and far more moderate than liberal, the new right positioned old-time conservatism as the thin, rational line separating American society from immoral, socialist internationalism.

Taking up the battle cries that were the opposite of what they believed, the new right took to the warpath. Folks who had never worked for nor defended freedoms and the basic rights of others were suddenly distressed that Martin Luther King's dreams wouldn't be realized (now sadly translated as preserving the status quo).

It wasn't a return to constitutional integrity and basic morality that was desired, but a return to the past – to a time when socially, economically, and personally everything was more stable, when disenfranchised minorities didn't muddy the water of political dialogue. A time that never really existed, but which this reactionary movement insisted was better than now and was actually revolutionary.

The problems were not those created by honorably motivated yet impossibly difficult attempts to achieve social equity and address long-ingrained discrimination. They weren't the consequences of technological evolution and changing worldwide economic trends. There is no complexity to government, so the argument went. All it requires is common sense. There is no problem to governing. All it requires is core morality. The problems of today – social, religious, economic, moral, and familial – rather than being integral to human interaction, were all caused by the clueless Democrats. The solution is to get rid of them. The best way to do this is to demonize any and all of them, even if that very notion is cancerous to democracy.


III

The failures in Iraq have raised unavoidable, troubling questions. But it wasn't until Katrina that so many things were stripped clean. Suddenly, the new mantra coming from the right has to do with what a good job Bush and his administration did within the reasonable boundaries of their responsibilities in such a tragedy.

Karl Rove implemented a strategy by which the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana would be attacked to shift the blame from Bush. Keep in mind that the strategy was not to hold them accountable, nor to identify bad judgment calls or inadequate preparations. The idea was not even to analyze what went wrong and to take this into consideration when planning for the future. It was to attack the mayor and governor as a way of transferring attention and shifting the blame off of Bush. The exact chain of command regarding multistate, natural, devastating tragedies, long a closely held Rove family secret, has now been revealed. It turns out everyone knows this secret: first, the mayor of one urban area; then the governor of one state; and not at all the federal government. Even if this flies in the face of longstanding practice, that fact only indicates the flaws of the secular humanists.

Now, even if the mayor and governor had intentionally and inhumanely made everything worse, sabotaging federal and state efforts, the culpability of the current administration is clear. FEMA was neither ready nor maneuverable enough to meet this calamity because President Bush had replaced its professional leadership with political cronies. An act of partisan favoritism against the common good, this is outrageous and unavoidably true, no matter where else you place blame. It is also, sadly, systemic throughout this administration, which argues against any "room for improvement" type of suggestion as an even coherent response.

After two decades of dishonest language, the new right has come out of its rather elegant and very expensive closet to fess up. They like the way things used to be so much better. Equality, equity, economic and social justice, and even democracy itself just ruin the operating purity of our democratic republic. In the name of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, let's move against free speech, free ideas, a free country, and a free people.

Bush is their leader and does nothing wrong. In the face of inarguably inept and arguably corrupt decisions as regards staffing, funding, and mission within the federal government, they rally around their man. They claim Bush did a good job when it comes to Katrina. I'm sorry; by no stretch of the imagination, except that which is strained through partisan lunacy, did he do a good or even adequate job. The only defense of Bush is as an expression of faith: accepting his every decision as righteous and working toward an explanation from that assumption. Bush is the all-powerful, all-knowing, white Christian father that a surprising number of Americans seem to need.

They must feel a genuine sense of relief now that, rather than continuing to disguise themselves as constitutional, patriotic government reformers, they can drop the act, embrace their inner partisan fanaticism, and tell things like they are. There is no desire for genuine civil rights, true separation of church and state, universal suffrage, or economic and social justice, no matter what language they use. They like things the way they are and even more the way they were. Only by pretending that there is a historically dominant, overwhelming, entrenched liberal government can a carefully articulated support of racism, sexism, traditional prejudices, long-established social inequities, and the overwhelming discriminatory privileges of the traditionally empowered majorities be made to seem revolutionary.

A celebration of traditional segregation, existing economic distribution, and USA-centric, parochial arrogance, their revolution turned out to be as profoundly a reactionary, biased, and anti-revolutionary movement as this world has ever seen.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Katrina, Katrina response, New Orleans, George W. Bush, FEMA, Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh, Republican ideology, new right, Republican revolution

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