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LESSONS FROM HELL

Amid death and destruction, Bush not as Nero, but as Caligula’s Horse Incitatus

John Chuckman

If he is alive, Osama bin Laden surely is enjoying some hearty laughter. Nothing he could imagine, short of the virtually-impossible task of obtaining a tactical nuclear weapon and detonating it in an American city, compares to the damage just inflicted upon the United States by its own President. Ten thousand dead is the estimate of New Orleans’ mayor. A morticians’ emergency measures organization is ready for forty thousand corpses. We won’t know for weeks, maybe months, as attics, basements, sewers, canals, and dumpsters are searched. The economic damage is nothing less than colossal.

Columnist Paul Krugman repeated Monday, September 5, a Chicago Tribune report that the U.S.S. Bataan, a military ship with six operating rooms, hundreds of hospital beds, and the machinery to produce 100,000 gallons of fresh water a day, sat off the Gulf Coast since Monday (August 29, when Katrina struck) without any patients.

On September 2, Krugman repeated the following from an editorial in Biloxi, Mississippi’s Sun Herald: “On Wednesday, reporters listening to horrific stories of death and survival at the Biloxi Junior High School shelter looked north across Irish Hill Road and saw Air Force personnel playing basketball and performing calisthenics. Playing basketball and performing calisthenics!”

Germany only just before these events experienced horrible floods, but that country’s government acted decisively and promptly to limit human suffering and damage. Britain, despite my reservations about some measures taken, acted with remarkable speed after the London Underground bombings. One of the world’s great cities in crisis was quickly managed, with emergency organizations and police immediately deployed.

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, bravely rode the Underground the next day to reassure citizens. By comparison, the Mayor of New Orleans and the President of Jefferson Parish were reduced to screams and tears on television by the lack of response from Washington.

When Bush got around to visiting – incidentally, holding up the urgent delivery of food supplies by planes grounded for his security – what we got were photo-ops like the staged start to repairing a damaged levee. In safely-selected meetings with a few area residents, Bush, suddenly appeared in a checkered shirt instead of his usual silk suit with overly-padded shoulders. He exchanged such fascinating anecdotes as the fact that Trent Lott had also lost a home (one of several) and that he, Bush, looked forward to sitting with Trent on the porch of his new, better house.

How would Trent’s new house be a better one, I wondered reading these words? Because Trent would have no trouble more than replacing his loss through manipulating the bounty of one Federal program or another? Because Trent had already got the President’s ear on his personal misfortune? Few of the desperate people clinging to roofs or the relatives of others floating face-down in filthy tides while Bush spoke could anticipate such bounty.

No one in the press, so far as I am aware, seems to have caught the fact that Bush, in his pathetic effort to say something comforting, referred to a man who was pushed from his high position in the Senate because of a history of associations and words that can only be called Klan-friendly. Compassionate Bush was offering this anecdote in a place where most of the dead and truly hopeless are poor blacks. Also unnoticed by the press was just how Bush would be aware of so insignificant a matter as Trent’s loss when the desperate Mayor of New Orleans couldn’t reach him on the phone.

Brains and character do count in leadership, and it has long been obvious to much of the world that George Bush possesses neither. Why did you re-elect this wretched man, America? There is almost nothing ghastly enough to say about his performance in a catastrophe. It is a virtual repeat of what he did to Iraq, but you really don’t seem to care about the horrors he has inflicted abroad. Perhaps, now, finally, you will care.

I do not believe, as some do, that George Bush is a racist. George Bush doesn’t have enough common human feeling to be a racist. He is a dull, droning, unfeeling man who has always enjoyed immense privileges while avoiding all responsibility and genuine work.

I do not believe, although the metaphor is tempting, that George Bush is Nero, for Nero, despite utter corruptness, actually had some intelligence. The appropriate Roman metaphor for Bush is the horse, Incitatus, which the ghoulish monster Caligula kept in the Imperial Palace and was reported to have appointed a Roman Consul. In this analogy, Caligula represents America’s insatiably-greedy Right Wing who put Bush where he is.

What so many Americans still do not appreciate is that Bush’s criminally negligent behavior concerning a hurricane in New Orleans closely parallels his and other Republican behavior before 9/11. Such simple, relatively inexpensive measures as secure cockpit doors and improved standards of security at airports would have made 9/11 impossible (just as improved levees and proper evacuation plans would have made the losses of New Orleans impossible). These were sensible measures being advocated then, not just in view of potential terrorism, but owing to the then considerable threat of hijacking, and they would have cost a tiny fraction of war in Afghanistan (I don’t include the cost of the bloody horror in Iraq since it has literally nothing to do with terror).

So, too, the total failure of the CIA under George Tenet to anticipate what was happening with some of its own human assets from the Middle East, while Israeli agents, arrested in the United States and expelled afterwards, seem to have been totally on to Atta and the boys. Reportedly, Tenet has written a twenty-page response he intends to publish if the draft of the report on CIA negligence is published in its existing form. Tenet’s piece apparently implicates Bush and his people in the failure.

If we must stick to comparisons with historical people rather than the horse of a Roman Emperor, Bush resembles the ne’er-do-well son of one of those putridly corrupt dukes in France’s Ancien Regime who would kill a servant in a fit of rage or ride over a peasant in his path. Such a person, in the rare event his deed was brought to the king’s attention, also pretended some vague, unaccountable mistake had been made and routinely was let go.

My God, look at the words of this man’s mother, a woman everyone who knows the family says closely resembles him both in intelligence and attitudes. Barbara just may have surpassed Marie Antoinette’s fabled (Marie never said it), “Let them eat cake!” Here is a quote from Mother Barbara on a tour of the Astrodome relief center:

“What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas.
Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.

“And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this–this (chuckling slightly) is working very well for them.”

Although her earlier comment on deaths in Iraq, made on national television, would be hard to beat for words devoid of human feeling:

“Why should we hear about body bags and deaths…? It’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?”

The apple does not fall far from the tree.

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