WASHINGTON — The stars of modern broadcast media take prodigious pride in the speed with which they can communicate to the masses. Of course, these artistes remain utterly oblivious of the poisonous concomitant of that speed, namely, the media’s almost inane superficiality. Discovering the cause of the New Orleans tragedy will take months, perhaps years. In reading a brilliant history of Winston’s Churchill’s efforts to write his monumental history of World War II, which is about to be published here, In Command of History, I have been struck by the differing explanations of great events that historians accumulate in an event’s aftermath. Doubtless, in the aftermath of the New Orleans tragedy there will accumulate many explanations. One thing that the historians will note for a certitude is that recriminations by public officials came in almost faster than aid and rescue relief — and certainly in greater abundance.
This is a consequence of modern mass media. Instantaneous communication with the nation’s millions of television screens and radios by media prodigies who have no greater talent or imperative than gabbing ensured the roar of recrimination that has almost overshadowed the other themes accompanying this tragedy, for instance the charity of the nation, the efficiency of the military. In time, historians will adjudge whether the President was slow or ineffectual in responding and ineffectual along with the possible failures of the governor, the mayor, and the local police department, hundreds of whose members deserted. Some were found driving their police cars through Florida. The Florida troopers who pulled them over thought they were thieves who had stolen the cops’ vehicles. Is there any instance of such dereliction of duty by local police on this scale in all of American history?
If the police department of New Orleans is so rife with incivism, what about the New Orleans authorities who control the police department? What about the state authorities? Well, governors and mayors alike in that famously easy-going state have a better chance of landing in the hoosegow than the governors and mayors of any other state in the union. From the time of the Longs of Louisiana to the time of Governor Edwin Edwards (now serving a ten-year sentence) and beyond, extravagance and corruption have been associated with both the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. The mayor’s and the governor’s incompetent responses to a hurricane that the federal government warned would be catastrophic should serve as a reminder that lax government is not always amusing.
That the President would at first receive the brunt of criticism issuing from the media’s jabbering dilettantes is but more evidence that major media is Democratic. I assume the President could have moved more quickly, though I do not know what he was to do when Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco told him she would need “24 hours to think about” his offer to take over the evacuation. Should he have reminded her that Abraham Lincoln settled this issue in 1865? The clear fact is that both New Orleans’ Mayor C. Ray Nagin and Governor Blanco were dilatory in using the powers and plans available to them. What plans were implemented seem to have been implemented in a shoddy way by shoddy government employees.
New Orleans has been a city abundant with pathology for decades. To see the bulk of the victims as black is misleading. If a similar natural disaster afflicted Appalachia the bulk of victims would have been white. More properly understood these victims are members of society’s underclass, a chronically disorganized collection of wretched people incapable of governing themselves and difficult to govern in the best of times: thus the rape, the pillaging, and the firing at rescue workers that took place at the Superdome and probably elsewhere.
A friend familiar with the New Orleans music scene of which he has apparently been a part writes: “Have you spent much time in New Orleans? There is an undercurrent of menace there in normal times. The crime rate is astonishing. Walking the streets after dark is much scarier than in New York. Jazzfest (one of the great events, taking place in late April) was changed to end at 7:00 p.m. a number of years ago because of ‘trouble’ when it ended after dark.” And he goes on, “In the middle of this is a great human tragedy. But covering that tragedy is layers and layers of needless risk-taking, disorganization, stupidity, and people stripping away the veneer of their humanity to reveal an underlying savage spirit.”
That is, the philosophers tell us, what we have government for, to protect us from our underlying savage spirit. Corrupt government rarely bothers, and its politicians are very adroit at ducking the blame.