This won't take long. And it won't be much fun. But duty and decency demand that we do it.
Sometimes you buy a cantaloupe because it looks good and you have enjoyed some fine ripe cantaloupes in your time, even though a buck and a half for a little melon that went three for a dollar within living memory seems pretty pricey. And you leave it on the kitchen counter for a few days, because it's a little green, but it softens and gets a better color so you slice it open, but it's mushy and rotten and smells like feet and tastes like vomit and you remember other, similar, corporate grocery chain cantaloupe experiences and vow as you heave the mess into the compost not to get fooled again.
Maybe you've bought a car. Reasonable mileage, no rust, convincing salesman who chatted you up about your hobbies, agreed with your prejudices, and made you feel you were a pretty clever guy for choosing this vehicle from his selection. But you couldn't keep it aligned, it ate tires, the brakes, exhaust system and radiator didn't survive the life of the payment book, and when you tried to sell it three years later every seventeen-year-old who looked at it was astute enough to reference the oil blown past the rear main seals as his reason for declining your “Best Offer Over $500 Dollars” prayer.
Some of you lady readers married men whose virtues are now no more apparent to you than they were pre-nuptually to your mothers, friends or even relatives of the groom himself. True, he was a successful inseminator but, sadly, the children look disturbingly like him. Of you, people say, “She could have done so much better.” What were you thinking? What can you do?
Or let's say a whole country was riding a foaming crest of good times, new cars, low interest rates, affordable gas, electronic gadgets and a We're Number One world view that was maybe weak on history, geography and empathy, but sure did by God show the big stick to the heathen foreigners. Such a people might toss a coin in a contest between a dorky, dull Democrat and an insipid dry drunk Texas fratboy Republican whose every and many failures had been rendered moot by family money and connections. They might not be paying much attention.
Then, let's say, some really nasty guys from a country larded up with ugly, corrupt fat cats blew a great big hole in a part of that country. Suppose the new president “rose to the occasion” by starting a war with another country in the same part of the world as the one where the bad guys came from, but which, for political and personal reasons and reasons having very much indeed to do with very valuable mineral resources and very profitable corporations and some other complicated considerations having to do with weapons sales, it was not convenient to invade because those particular rich foreigners were personal friends and business partners of that new chief executive.
And further (stay with me; I know it's a weird trip), imagine that just as it was made startlingly clear that pretty much everything this president had advanced as a reason for that war was a fabrication, a misdirection, a deliberate under- or over-statement (well, hell, yes, I guess just a pile of tremendous lies, really, if we need to use such an ugly word), imagine that he got re-elected despite his manifest incompetence and venality and smugness because the same Democrats who had advanced the very dull, unappealing candidate four years previously selected this time a cipher who ran against his own finest, most decent history and tried to seem more and more like the dull incumbent until, finally, some voters stuck with the dummy they knew, and some voted against the sad-sack they'd come to not respect, and the rigged Republican voting machines in two critical states made up the shortfall.
Now what if the best-studied, most carefully-observed, best-tracked, most predictable-coursed hurricane ever seen, and one of the biggest, wiped out a major coastal city that, had the president in question not been so intent upon “drowning government in a bathtub” and reducing the unwelcome sting of taxation upon the richest people and corporations he knew (outside of his friends in Saudi Arabia, I mean), might have received enough money to fortify its dikes and seawalls in the true spirit of “Homeland Security”, and maybe every old lady trying to board an airplane could have been spared the burden of taking off her shoes. (OK, I know it doesn't cost much to humiliate old ladies, and I know the money saved wouldn't have been diverted to New Orleans, but great craziness must be recognized and ridiculed and, when it is public policy, repudiated, and that's what they pay me to do here.)
You've seen the pictures. Twenty per cent of the residents of New Orleans lacked the resources, the vehicles, the health, the money to evacuate ahead of the storm. Too old, too sick, too poor to save themselves, and mostly, given America's great secret still, all these years after we thought we'd equalized these things, even after the token Scalia wannabe on the Supreme Court and the sad yes-man who abandoned the Secretary of State job after the lies he told finally began to curdle on his lips, mostly black. Poor blacks. Indeed.
You've seen the Superdome, the convention center footage. You've heard the first-person accounts of scores of hurting, hungry homeless (poor, black) persons trying to cross a bridge to dry ground but ordered back by white officials with guns. You've seen the misery, the neglect, the abuse. So has the rest of the world. We're Number One! Say it loud.
Is it time yet? Can we all just admit we made a stupid mistake? We weren't paying attention? We heard what we wanted to hear? We succumbed to slick advertising? The fruit was rotten; the car was a lemon; that bum was just piss-poor husband and father material and your momma was right. Stay the course? What course? Our country, its citizens, its principles have been reduced, abused, worked-over, bled-out, violated and humiliated. Not by terrorists or foreign enemies or tsunamis or tornadoes or an angry god. We have rotted from within.
Blame the Republicans? Nah, they're just “protecting their base.” Like helping like. It is the party of wealth and privilege. Blame the Democrats? Sure, if you can distinguish 'em from the Republicans. It sure ain't the party of FDR any more. Or even Jack Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson or Jimmy Carter. I'll see your Tom DeLay and your Bill Frist and raise you a Joe Biden and a Joe Lieberman. Blame the press for avoiding or killing any story that wasn't a press release from the Pentagon, the White House or the American Association of Yellow Ribbon Manufacturers. Blame our stars. Blame ourselves; we weren't paying attention; we didn't do the work democracy demands.
Do I exaggerate our desperate straits? The man at the top in his own words and by his own actions. Add the smirk and swagger yourself; you've seen it often enough.
First response? Fly over on Air Force One; go play golf. Condi Rice shopped shoe boutiques. Dick Cheney bought a three million dollar vacation home.
While you and I watched the Superdome and convention center fiascoes? Lunch with Al Greenspan. “Hurricane Katrina will represent a temporary setback for the U.S. Economy and the energy sector.”
As WalMart water trucks, Red Cross workers, TV reporters and Canadian Mounted Police forces tended the stricken city while FEMA and the National Guard waited for orders that didn't come? “Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job.”
Days after we'd all heard testimony from the engineers and planners who'd repeatedly sounded the alarm about Category Five storms and Cat. Three levees: “I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.”
With hundred of thousands homeless, uncounted dead, the poorest among us hit the hardest: “Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- the guy lost his entire house -- there's going to be fantastic house. I look forward to sitting on the porch.” [Yes, rubbles, plural. I know it sounds stupid, but I got it right off the White House website. He's proud of it, for Christ's sake!]
There's more. You've seen it, heard it, been repulsed by it. But did you get this from his mom, the husband of one bad president, the mother of the worst one yet, a woman who you'll remember said she couldn't find the time to trouble her “beautiful mind” about Iraqi civilians we'd bombed to death by the tens of thousands? Of those who'd lost all they owned, including, in many cases, loved ones, to the flood and were now enjoying the hospitality of Texas shelters: "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this [chuckle] is working very well for them."
Oh, those lucky, lucky homeless, sick people! What happy niggras we have here on our grand plantation. It makes a person feel dirty and disgusted and sick to his stomach. Don't you suppose a couple billion other people all over the world heard that chortle, you bloated, ignorant, overprivileged mother of a moron?
Hey, folks, things have gotten so bad that even the press is beginning to pay attention. Presidential Press Secretary Scott McClellan said at least fourteen times during two press briefings last week that now is not the time to “play the blame game.” I say it's an excellent time, while the dead are still floating on the polluted tides and we are not yet distracted by the World's Series or the run-up to Christmas or another newly-discovered “Axis Of Terror” triumvirate.
Now, for pure, wholesome, refreshing local idiocy we have the Maine Republicans' brilliant plan to make us forget the screwing we're getting from Exxon by canceling the state gasoline tax for a few months and (this is really too perfect for me to have made up) forgiving the sales tax on home heating oil (struggling, low wage, two-job homeowners get ready for this!) for business use.
OK. I'm done. Gotta go wax the yacht and wind my Rolex. Jesus, I wish I could be homeless and eat some donated food in Texas while my wife rots in a drainage canal and my dogs starve to death on the balcony of our ruined home
Chris Cooper writes an editorial page column, Fixtures And Forces And Friends for the Wiscasset [Maine] Newspaper. He lives in Alna, Maine; contact him at email@example.com.
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