9/12/2005

Will FEBAR Bring Down the House? - t r u t h o u t - Stirling Newberry

Will FEBAR Bring Down the House?
By Stirling Newberry
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Saturday 10 September 2005

With Friday's news that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Michael Brown had been relieved of managing the storm clean-up, a bit of reality settled in to Washington. Brown, you probably know, is a man who couldn't manage a horse breeder's association, and yet who was waved through hearings by an eager Joe Lieberman. It was an admission that New Orleans had been Federal Emergencied Beyond All Recognition. But this action does not stop the growing scandal. According to Spencer Hsu of the Washington Post, five of the top FEMA officials "came to their posts with virtually no experience handling disasters," and the "ranks of seasoned crisis managers have thinned dramatically since the September 11, 2001, attacks."

The Katrina catastrophe and the failure of response - FEBAR - have primed the pump of a deep well, that of liberal and Democratic anger. It isn't just that traffic on liberal blogs has spiked. It isn't just that the images have been so shocking, the reality of a nation unprepared for disaster so outrageous. It is that it cuts in sharp relief how out of power the Democrats are, and what that really means.

The final outrage may have been the formation of a "bipartisan committee" without telling the Democratic leadership of either house, without assuring equal representation, and without giving bipartisan subpoenas power. Publicly and privately, Democratic office holders exploded. When Scott McClellan went through an entire press conference saying that "we shouldn't play the blame game" and the press did not challenge him, it was a sharp, stiff shock to the systems of more than a few representatives who at long last realized what, exactly, Rove's Republic meant to them.

The reality that the public has to understand is that there are three poles of politics in America.There are two philosophies of national government - a liberal one and a reactionary one - and then there is a localist Americanism. For a very long time, this third pole felt that it was allied with the reactionary theory to restrain the liberal one. Even if nominally a member of the Democratic Party, the laissez-faire, small government, free market, low taxes vision of America could have been ripped from the Democratic Party's platform of 1928, or even 1932, before FDR had transfigured the party.

It created a national economy that taxed money where it piled up in cities, and pumped it out to the country side. This "pork-u-pump" kept rural areas afloat, slowed the bleeding of people into the cities, and gave them buying power to purchase manufactured goods, which allowed cities and a vast industrial machine to slowly bloom, and then, after the end of World War II, to boom. A representative's job, as much as he had one, was to work this pump: cut taxes on his constituents, and "bring home the bacon."

This means that many Democratic Congressmen, while they weren't happy not having the perks of the majority, were safe in their jobs as long as they could, from time to time, score a few laws and snarf down some pork now and again. Many of them were as devoted to the idea of "cut taxes, raise defense spending and pretend to balance the budget" as their counterparts across the aisle were. Many, coming up from state political machines, were happy to have the Federal government stay out of investigating local corruption and local ways of doing business. No applause please, just throw money.

However, they also expected that, eventually, the Republicans would trip up, and they would swing back into power. Some were aggressive about planning for this day, running a bitter civil war under the radar inside the Democratic Party, but this was only a fraction of the "go along to get along" consensus in the Democratic Party's upper echelons. Over and over again it was assumed that someday the economy would be bad enough, the scandals rank enough, and the electorate restive enough to have a change in power. Just focus on winning a few seats, and one day it would work out. This strategy was roughly like trying to draw an inside straight on every hand of poker.

What has exacerbated this sector of the Democratic officeholder class, and the people who work for them, is not that the country is marching in a reactionary direction. As the filibuster deal showed, they were quite happy, make that eager, to confirm a judge who called the New Deal unconstitutional. It has not sunk into their minds that this means the end of their existence and the end of their usefulness. They don't connect, in their own minds, the pork-u-pump to the New Deal. It has existed, it exists in every developed nation, why not in this one? And they were positively antipathetic to the idea of the Federal government's imposing standards and checking results in any effective manner. The result is that when catastrophe came, no one was there to bar the door.

Because most Democratic office holders lacked any larger vision than bringing home the bacon, being out of power was galling, but not worth taking large risks to change. Most were not angry about the direction of policy. Instead, what angers them now is their growing perception that the great game of politics, the ability to investigate the other party and raise a fuss - the ability to engage in "oversight," which is the bread and butter of moving an ambitious career upwards or making a mere politician into an untouchable institution - has been taken away.

The public, however, does not have the luxury or the time while the powers that be in Washington tussle politely, and sometimes less than politely, behind closed doors in the capitol building. With every passing day, billions bleed out from the treasury, and more young Americans bleed to death in the hardened streets of Baghdad and by the side of desolate highways in the desert. And the signs of a growing sense of urgency are visible as tremors in the polls. Normally a disaster allows a President to look presidential and providential. There is a sense of putting party aside and getting the job done, and with it comes a bounce in the polls. Bush's was so soft and small that people barely felt it.

However, no reading of the polls shows any direction; the Democratic leadership is as unpopular as the Republican leadership, individual incumbents of both parties are facing low approval numbers, and as yet no candidate has emerged for the Presidency who offers a vision that has "caught fire" with the public.

For those who read history, this is not an uncommon pattern: before America is willing to adopt a wholesale change, it often simply screams in frustration, sending a group of people to Washington who will "do something" about the problems. The problems that need to be investigated are piling up. While it is doubtful Americans are yet ready to hear the truth about 9/11, namely that the same people who couldn't read a weather report could not read an intelligence report, they are ready to hear the truth about how the reconstruction and occupation of Iraq is a carnival of corruption, and they are certainly willing to hear the truth about how George W. Bush managed to lose New Orleans, the site of the last invasion of the continental United Sates...

t r u t h o u t - Stirling Newberry | Will FEBAR Bring Down the House?

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