Reader Mail

Ben Stein, Bush, and Katrina

Bush-loathers draw-and-French quarter Ben Stein. A special Reader Mail section.

9.6.05

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WHAT WAS TO BE DONE?
Re: Ben Stein's Get Off His Back:

THANK YOU BEN STEIN! It is time for a little common sense. Anyone notice how things started getting done once Bush went in to see for himself? Anyone going to comment on it? Yea, right.
-- S.J. Reidhead
Ruidoso, New Mexico

I'm glad to see humorist Ben Stein has returned to writing satire. His "Twelve Truths Refuting Media Lies about Bush," or "Get Off His Back," was hysterical. I think it might be poor taste to start writing humor while the catastrophe is still playing out, but Mr. Stein has really hit the mark with his barbs about "It's not George Bush's fault that there were sick people and old people and people without cars" and pointing out his callous disregard for them is treason by the media, a media that dares to show him picking and grinning at a fundraiser while New Orleans' reckless sick and old and carless were washed away.

Oh, Mr. Stein say it so much more cleverly than I can. His piece is so wry that I think partisans might take him seriously. Better squirt some Visine at them, clean their eyes, to get the truths out. Mr. Stein writes it with the wickedness of an insider who's seen Nixonian mendacity up close, and can mock with unique accuracy the meanness and pettiness with which such over-the-top lies (or "truths") are dispatched.

I hope to see more of this refreshingly "clear-sighted" Mr. Stein as he deconstructs the hollow truths of the Bush administration.

Get the red out, Ben!
-- Frank Herron
San Francisco, California

Thank you for the wonderful articles by Ben Stein, "Get Off His Back." They are so informative and much needed.
-- Charlese Galbraith

Sorry. The excuses aren't going to work this time. Call it "truth" if you feel you must. You forget, we were ALL watching this come down. You can't spin what we've seen with our own eyes.
-- Kerri Lafaurie

George W. Bush may not hate blacks. He just hates the poor, as do most Republicans, as is proven by their policies time after time -- this is a really appropriate time to repeal the estate tax, don't you think?

In New Orleans, and elsewhere, many blacks happen to be poor. It's quite a coincidence.

They're the people that supply side leaves by the wayside.
-- unsigned

That article should be published in every newspaper, every political website, and read aloud on every cable news channel. To say you've hit the bull's-eye would be a disservice to your accuracy and eloquence.
-- CDM

Ben Stein's article is amazing and very well stated. Heard this on WLS today and ran home to look it up. So glad there are still some Americans living in this great country. Hats off to Ben!!
-- Paula Powell
Cortland, Illinois

Sobering, and so revealing of the right's fatuousness, that Ben Stein's maudlin lament for our president and the "callous" treatment he's received in the wake of Katrina, concludes with a decade-old swipe at -- you got it -- the Clinton's health care plan. His side has reaped the whirlwind (literally in the last week) through its craven "politics of personality" campaign in the '90s up to the current day. Choke on it, Ben.
-- Warren Mills, Jr.
San Leandro, California

Hooray for Ben Stein. We can all look at and carp over blame later. The ability and means are now available to help reduce the suffering and death and clearly that is being done. Paint the horrible picture of snipers and rapists and looters and make sure everyone understands "That behavior is unacceptable.". Laying this on the President at this point in time is absurd but it does show just how small so many politicians are. Perhaps that is the silver lining from this dark cloud.

Even when it comes to our very own citizens the press cannot quite stomach bringing us good news. There is good news, people are being removed now, even though many could have left well before the storm, and food and water is being delivered. Even here in northern Wisconsin people are making donations of food and diapers and money. So what if that $10 would buy 3 gallons of fuel, we are the lucky ones who can make the decision to do it and we are.
-- Roger Ross
Tomahawk, Wisconsin

Thanks for the condescension, Stein.
Now here's a few truths for you:

1. While it is not President George Bush's fault that crackheads shot at helicopters and committed rapes, robberies and murders, it was his responsibility to stop it when local and state leadership failed to.

2. If President George Bush were rushing every bit of help to New Orleans as soon as he could, the first active duty troops would have landed from the USS Bataan on Wednesday afternoon and started establishing control over the city.

3. If President George Bush had seen any of the media coverage you don't like, then why in the world did he wait until the end of the week to do something about it????

4. "Sticking pins in the effigy of George Bush" is not what all his critics on this are about. When people die from a combination of lack of water, lack of medical attention, and exposure to a sweltering, contaminated environment, and when people are robbed, raped and murdered for days then the leaders responsible for order in the country don't just walk away with an "oops." What is sure to follow will no doubt include plenty of partisan dramatics, but it will also include something else: Accountability.

Governor Blanco of Louisiana failed miserably in her duties, as did her officials in the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (LOHSEP). However, the President of the United States has the authority to proclaim a major disaster and place a FEMA official (FCO; the lawyer guy, Brown) in charge of federal disaster relief efforts in the affected area as well as to establish a unified command under a commander-in-chief with responsibility for DoD assistance in the crisis. Under this umbrella, active duty forces can enter the disaster zone without violating the Posse Comitatus Act (18 USC, Section 1385) and perform security and humanitarian assistance operations. While the first 24 hours of absolutely squat from Blanco may have been seen as the result of "Fog of War" or "friction," by noon time Wednesday I cannot understand how the President could have seen anything other than a situation desperate for military intervention to protect life.

I agree that Hillary would probably have done even worse. I agree that the state government of Louisiana is an absolute farce. I recognize that most of the criticism that will get much air time will be politically motivated. But not all of it. He dropped the ball and this was too big a play.

We needed Joshua but we got Moses, the later years.
-- Mark Stewart
Jacksonville, Florida

Ben Stein's article would almost be funny, were the circumstances not so tragic. As it is, the words are unsupported by fact, thoughtless, callous, and downright stupid. As such, he gives conservatives and Americans a bad name.

Please do not publish crap like this again - it does nobody any good. Really.
-- Colin Maclay

I had intended to write a sternly worded email in response to your article, but as I looked for specific points to refute, I realized the article was a hopeless mishmash of generalizations so broad and platitudes so unfounded that there was really no need to respond. Nonetheless, as I had opened an email already, I thought I might as well send something. Thanks for the meaningless fluff you have passed off as an article. You said nothing of substance and said it poorly. Keep up the good work.
-- Sam Romero

... By the way, who are you and why do you publish such mind numbingly, boring, simplistic jingoistic nonsense?
-- Jack, Boston

I find Ben Stein's 12 points to be naive at best and maliciously destructive at worst. While it is true that the President is not responsible for the plans of either the state of Louisiana or the city of New Orleans, he is directly responsible for FEMA, and for the National Guard.

To say that "20 percent of the population neglected to follow the plan" of evacuation is -- well, words fail me. Forty percent of the population of the city made less than $8,000 a year and relied solely on public transportation to get themselves around. Exactly what was their option when told to evacuate? Start walking? Or, go to the shelters as directed by the state and city officials? Those people followed directions to the best of their ability and are dying because of it.

While the violence is inexcusable, it is also a direct result of the failure of any government agencies -- city, state or federal -- to have infrastructure in place to control the population. There is enough blame to go around for everyone involved, and Bush should not be exempted, no matter what the sycophants might like to believe.

FEMA's feeble response is a direct result of lack of leadership. Leadership put in place through cronyism of the most venal sort. Mike Brown has no business in this job, as he has so ably proven.

Mr. Stein, it's not that we hold the president accountable for the fact that the hurricane happened, it's that we have been promised a strong federal response to any disaster in this country. Had this been a terrorist attack, can anyone honestly say that it would have been handled any more capably? That is elephant in the room, and the basis for the virulent attacks.

And if you can't see that, then I'm sorry for you, and for myself, as it is your compatriots who are in charge of my well-being. I have no faith in either their ability or their morality. They've proven to be bankrupt of both.
-- Melissa Matile
Aurora, Illinois

In response to Ben Stein's sneering appeal to get off Bush's back:

1. Ben Stein is better as an actor, author, screenwriter, game show host and humorist than he is as at economics, oink-anomics or as a political toady and roadie for the rich and powerful.

2. We will stay on George W. Bush's "back," because freedom-loving people everywhere condemn his abuse of power -- spending levee money on Iraq, cutting the levee budget, neglecting hurricane preparations, failing to deliver pallets of food and water to people Bush could see on television at the Sewerdome (f/k/a Sewerdome), Convention Center and other places in New Orleans.

3. We will stay on George W. Bush's back because he was sooooo slow and ineffectual to respond to everything important that happened in his administration -- not just Katrina -- believing it his mission (as stated by porcine Grover Norquist) to "starve government" until it could be "strangled like a baby in a bathtub."

4. We will stay on his back because he is amoral and tolerates cruelty and reprisal by the Karl Roves and tatterdemalion government and contractor managers.

5. We will stay on his back because we see Katrina as the Kristalnacht [sic] of our times....
-- Ed Slavin
St. Augustine, Florida

In answer to "Get Off His Back," may God Bless Bush indeed -- but what about American taxpayers, American (legal, not "non") citizens, America's (legal, not "anchor") children? How come we seem to be at the bottom (seemingly in every instance) of the U.S. government "food" chain? We are not the bottom-feeders, we are the top of the food chain dollar-wise to our elected government!...
-- Marty Lich
Gypsum, Colorado

In his blustering defense of President Bush ("Get Off His Back"), Ben Stein bemoans the "stupendous incompetence by the New Orleans city authorities." Conspicuously absent from his 12-point rant, however, is any mention whatsoever of the role FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security played in the tragic turn of events in New Orleans.

Without coming out and directly saying it, Mr. Stein seems eager to foist the lion's share of the blame on Louisiana officials. While this may serve the purposes of his argument, it is completely at odds with political reality. According to their very own website website: "In the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other large-scale emergency, the Department of Homeland Security will assume primary responsibility [emphasis mine] on March 1st for ensuring that emergency response professionals are prepared for any situation. This will entail providing a coordinated, comprehensive federal response to any large-scale crisis and mounting a swift and effective recovery effort."

Much of the blame for the situation in New Orleans spiraling out of control has been directed at FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security, and by association, to President Bush as well. This is as it should be. This past Thursday, when several cable stations and radio outlets were reporting on the desperate situation in the Convention Center, Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security head, was forced to admit he was completely unaware of the tragic events unfolding there. This is but one of the many examples of the ineptitude displayed by the heads of FEMA and Homeland Security over the past week, a week that has been an embarrassment to this entire country. The fact that the President has said he is "satisfied with the response" of these two departments is am embarrassment as well. It calls into question his suitability to lead this country.

For Mr. Stein to take potshots at New Orleans authorities without making so much as one mention of the role that FEMA or the Department of Homeland Security played in New Orleans is the height of dishonesty.
-- M. Carr
Somerville, Massachusetts

Stop making up excuses for George W. Bush, people have done that his entire life. This is exactly why he has failed at just about everything he has done, yet he is so detached from reality he doesn't even realize how much of a failure he is. Your whining is not going to change that and it's pretty pathetic to make up excuses for a 58-year-old man. This is not a pep rally, this is real, this is life and death and the time for the lies and talking points is over. There is documented proof that the governor and local officials went to the administration as early as the 28th of August seeking help before the disaster occurred. Yes, the few criminals in New Orleans are malicious. Almost as malicious as the kind of people (your kind of people), that would punish an entire city for 5 days precisely because they aren't your kind.

I have watched the events in New Orleans and quite honestly I cannot sleep at night. I have never felt this sick about a political issue in this country in my lifetime. Let me be clear, the idea that these people are somehow to blame for their fate is absolutely absurd. As a matter of fact I can completely understand how all of these people were still in New Orleans when the levees broke. I am a police officer in a large urban city. I work with citizens who have lived their entire lives with no license and no car. I meet these people every day and the only mode of transportation that they have is either to walk, catch a taxi, or take the public bus or rail system. They have lived this same way, on the same street, in the same neighborhood for generations. I would bet that this is identical to every large city in America. You could pick out any large urban population of any ethnic composition and if you were to go there and tell everyone that they had 24 hours to evacuate, it is not only possible, it is probable that the vast majority of those people would not be able to do so without heavy involvement from the government.

As a first responder working in an inner city who has actually had to evacuate people for various reasons, I can personally attest to the difficulty and necessity for total logistic commitment by the local government. That's just to evacuate a few apartment complexes, much less an entire city. To try to imply that there is an "intellectual" component as to why the citizens of New Orleans did not leave and why they are responsible for their own suffering completely misses the reality of the issue. If you were to take any group of people of any race and deprived them of food and water, had them walk through waste deep water filled with feces and urine, and then made them have to watch their sick loved ones die slowly before their eyes the situation will very quickly descend into anarchy.

For the past four days as people are dying by the hundreds I have listened to commentators like Michael Barone and Charles Krauthammer casually discuss how the taxpayers should not subsidize the poor judgment of the citizens of New Orleans because they were "told to leave." My emotions have run the gamut from being stunned to seething with anger. But yesterday when I heard the White House press secretary, the director of Homeland Security, and the director of FEMA all using this same "it's their own fault" logic the real dread set in and I finally understood. This is nothing less than ethnic cleansing. The lack of response, the diversion of responsibility, the indifference all point in the same direction and that direction is going to end up looking like Rwanda. I can't help but think that somewhere in the halls of power the brokers are quietly calculating the bottom line. It's social Darwinism on steroids. I am starting to believe that they looked at all those black faces and maybe deep down inside they are not only thinking that the people of New Orleans deserved this fate, maybe they are thinking that this thinning of the herd is best for the country in the long term. This isn't new, it's just an extension of the same logic used in the past. Remember the common quip "if they didn't have the sense to vote the right way then they don't deserve the right to vote"? Now it seems that this logic has morphed into something far more sinister. Instead of those citizens not deserving the right to vote it has become those people don't deserve to be a part of our society, they don't deserve to live.

The worst part of your article "God bless all of those dear people who are suffering so much, and God bless those helping them, starting with George Bush." is one of the most phony, disgusting pieces of dribble that I have ever read. I'm not kidding, it literally made me nauseous. Do you really think that you can pull that off? When did they go from being stupid to dear people? Trust me, I like better when you just remain your usual smug self.
-- K. B. Reed
Atlanta, Georgia

....Do I blame President Bush for Hurricane Katrina? Absolutely not. But I do blame him and the other leaders for not acting swiftly enough and for refusing to take the necessary steps to prevent some of the damage when they had the opportunity.
-- Daniel Niemeyer

...Having lived in Japan the past eleven years, where Japanese leaders, including CEO of large companies, practice mea culpa, it disgusts me how slimy American leaders have become. Bush could have done a lot more to help the situation in New Orleans, not only in the aftermath of Katrina, but also in the years preceding. Our current president is so paranoid about terrorism that he is neglecting what is really needed in the USA: basic maintenance of infrastructures in the great cities of the country. This disaster has shown Bush's true colors. He is an incompetent leader with limited vision....
-- Mary Nobuoka
U.S. citizen who chooses to live abroad

Thanks heavens for Ben Stein.

Where are all the Republicans hiding? Is there no one else who dares to speak up for our President????

Watching the news the past few days has been like riding a see-saw. Horror and pity for all the victims of Katrina in the four states, and rage at the scandalously ridiculous things being said and printed by the left.

The MSM is in full hue and cry. From the odious Blumenthal and Paglia to the ubiquitous Jesse Jackson and even to some unknown left blogger who actually claims he saw Condi "shopping." Imagine that. They make it sound like she was seen eating children or something.

I'm coming to actually HATE every Democrat. Especially the ones in power who have absolutely no integrity or decency left.

Please thank Mr. Stein for me.
-- M. Schlosser
Bethany Beach, Delaware

Who could not like Ben Stein? He's funny, he's smart, a family man, successful. So it amazes me that he is so wrong on George W. Bush.

George W. Bush and his cronies make him the worst President ever.

George W. Bush makes Richard M. Nixon look like a great statesman, a highly honorable President by comparison.

Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, and the rest are horrible. They are an embarrassment to the United States in the world community.

I do so wish they would do the right thing and resign.

I did so want to continue to like Ben Stein. But his political leaning will be the first thing I think of as I rush to change whatever channel he happens to be on.

Perhaps you will someday realize the error of your thinking, Mr. Stein. Sticking up for the Bush Administration is brazenly unconscionable....
-- Bob Neale
Parma, Ohio
P.S. I have voted for Republicans before, including George W. Bush in 2000. However, I will never vote for a Republican candidate again. So help me, God.

The point that Mr. Stein misses in his recent checklist of why he fancifully thinks that our President did not fail during the crisis left by Hurricane Katrina was not missed by the Financial Times, hardly a left-leaning
publication:
-- David Christensen

Who cares about who makes hurricanes and who does or doesn't evacuate?

We've supposedly spent four years and billions of taxpayers' hard-earned dollars on disaster preparedness and have heard nothing but hype about how Bush thinks real hard every day about how he's going to protect the American people.

And this is what we have to show for it? This is how we look to the world? Osama now knows he just has to blow one chemical plant and then throw in a flood and we're lost? After spending billions of (taxpayer) dollars we can't walk and chew gum at the same time? They couldn't imagine that two things might happen in a row? They think disasters are neat and manageable? It takes five days of blistering heat and no food or water before we can bring in the cavalry?

Sometimes God can do the work of, um, two whole cells of terrorists, and we were supposed to be all ready for this. No worries. George W. Bush is on the job.

Those "city authorities" haven't been on national TV positioned in front of adoring fans for the last few years, waving flags and telling us they're working real hard every day making us safe. (And those photo ops cost a pile of taxpayer money too.) I didn't elect the local and state officials but I'm part of the American electorate and Bush WORKS FOR ME.

You're right, he's not a magician. He can't make this debacle disappear.

I especially like all the apologies for the government's response, because, gee, who could imagine it could get this bad, but poor people in New Orleans were supposed to have had the good sense, foresight, and creativity our national leadership lacks and figure out how to get themselves out of town. Somehow it's always about personal responsibility and accountability until you get to the guy where the buck is supposed to stop and his loony deputies and secretaries and assistant ass-coverers.

You better believe I'm going to be on George W. Bush's back. You better believe I expected him to be able to put together a government response for a large-scale disaster. He's had plenty of time to think real hard and BILLIONS of (taxpayer) dollars to spend and he hasn't managed to do it. He ought to be fired.

But keep defending him. Apparently you know where your next bottle of water is coming from in case of disaster. I just wish I could say the same.
-- M.E. Kieffer
Clifton, Virginia

I'll stick to facts, not opinions.

Fact: President Bush declared Louisiana a disaster area before the storm even rained on the state.

Fact: The governor of Louisiana sent her request for all appropriate federal help on Sunday. A pdf of this request is available on the governor's office website from the state of Louisiana.

Fact: The Department of Homeland Security assumes primary responsibility for the coordination of relief efforts, even those of the state and local level, in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster, as it says on its own website.

Fact: President Bush attended a Republican fundraiser in California in mid-week.

Fact: Vice President Cheney returned from vacation on Friday, five days after landfall in New Orleans.

Fact: Secretary of State Condi Rice returned from vacation on Thursday, after attending a Broadway show and buying shoes priced at more than $500 a pair, four days after landfall.

Fact: Offers of help from Jamaica were rejected by our U.S. Embassy in that country, and Canadian government planes with aid and personnel were not allowed in U.S. airspace.

Fact: The American Red Cross was ordered to stay out of New Orleans by FEMA and agencies under its control.

Fact: The Undersecretary of DHS, Mike Brown, said Thursday that he had just learned that day of the 15,000 people at the Convention Center.

Fact: 1,000 volunteers with 500 boats were turned away from New Orleans by a FEMA-controlled state agency when they volunteered to rescue patients from Charity Hospital.

Fact: President Bush shortened his vacation by one day to respond to the crisis.

Fact: Mike Brown's only previous experience in disaster manages was as an assistant city manager -- before he took and was fired from a position with the International Arabian Horse Association.

Fact: Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago has confirmed he offered more than 150 specially-trained personnel and equipment to augment the first responders on the scene, and was told by FEMA to send one truck.

Fact: 300 Florida ambulances were offered by a state ambulance association and the offer was rejected by FEMA.

Make this make sense for me. I've said it all week -- any 17-year-old Senior Patrol Leader from any decent Boy Scout troop in America could have done a better job than Mike Brown did this week.
-- B. Duck

Get off his back? No way....

Ben Stein, you were one of Richard Nixon's chief apologists to the end. At least wingnuts like P.J. O'Rourke have some redeeming value in their comedic talent. You are, were, and will always be a nonthinking partisan toady.
-- Augie Chiausa

Thank you Ben Stein. You are the voice of sanity and probably saved my sanity this weekend...
-- Jane
Connecticut

(For non-Ben Stein Reader Mail today, click here.)

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