Sometimes Quickly, Sometimes Slowly: The Obama and Bush Approaches to Disaster Management

One of the hallmarks of the George W. Bush administration was that their realities were oftentimes more absurd than the parodies created to mock them. Nothing Jon Stewart and his boys cooked up in a writers meeting could have been more bizarre than watching a news anchor report that Vice President Cheney shot an elderly judge in the face with a wad of birdshot. No SNL writer wrote anything for Will Ferrell that matched the unmitigated hubris of watching the real President Bush land on an aircraft carrier in a full flight suit and give a speech in front of a giant Mission Accomplished banner just six weeks into a war that would drag on for nearly a decade. It was an eight year period in our nation’s history where nothing you saw on a news ticker was too insane to believe. Wolf Blitzer could have come on TV on election night in 2008 and informed the American people that President Bush was extending his 2nd term by another 4 years and had nominated Suzanne Sommers as his new VP and I don’t think we would’ve been completely surprised.

With President Obama in The White House, we’ve seen a semblance of rationality and poise injected back into the Executive over the past 4 years. Personally, I have grown accustomed to trusting that, at the very least, my Commander in Chief inhabits the same reality as I do and that, even though I can’t implicitly trust everything he says, I know that his reasoning couldn’t be disassembled by a particularly inquisitive 5th grader. The same cannot be said for some of Bush’s fellows in the GOP, like Todd Akin and Dick Mourdock, who have neither our 43rd President’s comic appeal or sense of tact. That’s right. These two are so moronic that they actually make our nation’s most loose-lipped leader look tactful. Both of these guys would be running away with their Senate races by healthy double-digit margins if they could have confined their opinions on sexual assault and abortion to, “rape is bad.” But, instead, they just had to put their two cents in on the magic lady juices that are biologically designed to ward off rape babies and God’s supposed intentions in getting rape victims pregnant. Going back to our hypothetically precocious 5th grader, her responses to each of those statements would likely go along the lines of, “how would you know, you don’t even have a vagina” and “what sick-o god would want rapists to get women pregnant?”

The only reason I even bring up Akin & Co is to juxtapose their particular brand of idiocy with that of the Bush Administration. Nothing that Todd Akin or Dick Mourdock says about the reproductive rights of women is funny. We can make jokes at their expense and ridicule their crass insensitivity all we want, but at the end of the day what we’re left with are brutally hateful and misogynistic remarks. Lewis Black once said during one of his specials that the biggest problem with the terrorists that we are fighting today is that they have no sense of humor1. I can’t put words in the man’s mouth, but I would imagine he would agree with me that the same lack of humor extends to extremists of almost all stripes and most certainly to the fundamentalist wing of the Republican Party. At some point you cross the Mendoza Line2 of sadness and the amount of joy one gets from ridiculing a thing is overwhelmed by the hideousness of the situation itself.

Thus, it came as a welcome surprise to me when I was finally able gain internet access this afternoon that former FEMA Director Michael Brown had decided to weigh in on the Obama Administration’s handling of Hurricane Sandy. For those of you who don’t remember, “Brownie,” as he was known by President Bush, was the Director of FEMA during Hurricane Katrina and oversaw the least coordinated and poorly executed disaster relief plan the agency’s history. Under Brown’s watch, FEMA officials did more harm than good in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina and were accused of deliberately slowing aid down to ensure that their shoddily put together organization could coordinate all of their relief efforts. In an interview three days after Katrina made landfall, Brown was asked by NBC’s Brian Williams about the status of the thousands of refugees who were holed up in New Orleans’ Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for days without adequate resources. His response was that he was unaware that there were any refugees in the convention center. It should come as no great shock that Brown was unceremoniously relieved of his duty 10 days later.

I guarantee you that Gov. Christie was not imploring President Obama to act more slowly.

Naturally, given his sterling record concerning disaster relief, Mr. Brown felt qualified to offer critiques of President Obama’s handling of the situation thus far, which he did in an interview yesterday with the Denver alt-newspaper The Denver Westword. His main beef with the administration’s actions to this point? They were acting too quickly. Let me stop for a moment and rephrase that. The man who actively diverted resources and created additional red tape for one of the greatest environmental disaster’s in our nation’s history is criticizing President Obama for responding to an impending disaster in too timely a manner. How do you respond to a disaster too quickly? I’m sure, as the people of New Jersey were listening to Governor Chris Christie issue emergency warnings on Saturday, many of them were thinking, “this would be a lot more effective if he gave us less time to prepare.” It’s very hard to find anything about the Bush administration to be nostalgic about, but if I could pick one thing, it would be the uncanny ability of their representatives to balance the line between the absurd and the tragic. Mr. Brown’s comments are not ignorant in a venomous, hateful way like Todd Akin’s and Dick Mourdock’s are. No, like those of his old boss, Brownie’s ignorant remarks come from a place of abject stupidity that we can all laugh at, even as we shake our heads in disbelief.

As Hurricane Sandy winds down, spreading itself thin over the hills of Western New York and Pennsylvania, I think it’s important to consider the words of Micheal Brown. At least 39 lives have been lost in the US due to Hurricane Sandy, in addition to the 69 that were lost in the Caribbean earlier in the week. Over the next few days and even weeks, our eastern seaboard will be recovering from tens of billions of dollars in damage and the loss of power to millions of residents. Entire communities have been flooded and now begin the process of slowly drying out amid the newfound rot and destruction that has enveloped them. And, amongst all this, we can ask ourselves what things would have been like had the Obama Administration and the state and local governments headed by Govs. Christie and O’ Malley and Mayor Bloomberg not acted so quickly? We can remember what it was like when the Micheal Brown’s of the world were in charge and we can thank whatever it is we care to believe in that, for the time being, they aren’t in charge anymore.

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1See the CD “Rules of Enragement”. I’m paraphrasing, but to this point, Black said, “I realize that when you live a tent you can’t have any knock-knock jokes, but at the very least I would have thought you would’ve come up with a couple flap-flap jokes.”

2For those of you who don’t watch SportsCenter religiously, The Mendoza Line is a reference to the point at which a baseball player’s batting average becomes embarrassingly incompetent. The term is in reference to former Pittsburgh Pirates Shortstop Mario Mendoza, who averaged a lifetime .215 batting average that frequently dipped below the .200 mark. That .200 average is the unofficial Mendoza Line and anyone who slips beneath is deemed so offensively inept that they don’t have much justification for being in the Majors.

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Categories: Environmental News, US Politics

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