New Orleans and the Demise of the Democrats
Margaret Kimberley Black Commentator, September 8th 2005
“They have M-16s and they’re locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so.” – Kathleen Blanco, Democratic Louisiana Governor “But I want to thank the president.” – Mary Landrieu, Democratic Louisiana Senator “…you and I are not in a position to make any judgment because we weren’t there.” – Bill Clinton, former Democratic President Democrats made these mean spirited and ignorant statements. The entire country is facing the plight of the people of New Orleans, coping with the dangers of Republican hell and Democratic high water. One party is proud of its viciousness while the other claims not to be vicious but proudly proclaims its willingness to shoot desperate refugees. The degree of Democratic callousness in the New Orleans tragedy may be shocking at first, but it is actually consistent with the direction the party has taken for the past two decades. The Democrats are dying a slow political death. Their inaction and acquiescence in New Orleans is just the latest symptom presented by a terminal patient. In the summer of 2005 President Bush’s approval ratings took a dive. The plunge was not the result of any shrewd political moves by the Democrats. Iraq is dragging Bush down. His approval ratings are akin to Richard Nixon’s at the time of his resignation during the Watergate scandal. The issue that could have catapulted John Kerry into the White House is rearing its head yet again, but Democrats refuse to take up the challenge. Not only do they refuse to fight, but they aren’t shy about admitting their cowardice. Party leadership boldly states for the record that they will continue to support a president whose policies have now become a liability for his own administration. They repeat John Kerry’s losing talking points as if they were religious scripture. Hillary Clinton, the likely nominee in 2008, advocates sending more troops to Iraq. Only one Democratic Senator, Russell Feingold, has publicly called for a withdrawal of American troops. The rest make baffling appeals to their fellow Democrats to stay on the sinking ship. “The smartest thing Democrats can do is be supportive,” opines former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry. It has to be an historic first for a political party to make a conscious decision not to kick an opposition that is on the ropes. In the face of the New Orleans disaster Bill Clinton, still the party leader, decided to cheapen himself yet again and fetch the stick when the Bushies threw it. On the same day that the Mayor of New Orleans begged for help and thousands of refugees told horror stories of being left to fend for themselves without food, water or adequate sanitation, Bill Clinton agreed to hang out with Bush 41 and raise corporate cash. The love fest with the Bushies was a shameful performance. Thousands of people who couldn’t get out of the city followed directions to take refuge in the Superdome. They waited on line for hours and then sat helplessly as the stadium roof didn’t live up the word “super.” The wind and rain they hoped to escape came inside. They lived in fear of assault, reused disposable diapers and urinated on the floor, but the former president had only these words of comfort: ”So I understand why they’re so anxiety-ridden. But they have to understand, by the time it became obvious that they were in the fix they were in, there were a lot of other problems, too.” Clinton could have been worse. He could have bragged about shoot to kill orders. If Clinton really wanted to help New Orleans he should have refused the offer to join the old boys network of former presidents. He could have been the voice of an indignant and outraged nation. As a former president he was uniquely qualified to ask why the Department of Homeland Security kept no one in the Gulf Coast secure. He also has, or rather had, the unique ability to send Republicans into a frenzy of rage. Bill Clinton could have cut short the wait for help with a simple offer to coordinate the relief effort personally. Dubya would have stopped looking like a deer caught in headlights and demanded action, if only to keep Clinton from getting any credit. Whether the issue is Iraq or hurricane Katrina, millions of Democrats still live in hope that their party will fight for them. Instead they are left disappointed and angry after years of electoral failure and complacency. New Orleans itself epitomizes the anguish of Democrats. In 2004 it dodged the hurricane Ivan bullet. This city run by black Democrats only reluctantly opened the Superdome to shelter potential refugees. Despite the Ivan warning they did not develop an evacuation plan for the thousands of residents who don’t have cars, the only adequate means of escape. Their plan seemed to consist of hope, denial and wishful thinking that major hurricanes would miss the city and that levees would always hold up. Republicans won’t suffer when Bush is unable and unwilling to help thousands of Americans suffering from a natural disaster. They won’t suffer when he arrives at the disaster scene and messes up a simple photo-op by laughing and smirking inappropriately and talking about Trent Lott’s destroyed vacation home. They won’t suffer no matter what they do because the Democrats are impotent. If the Republicans fail, the failure will be theirs alone. The Democrats will only win if by some miracle the Republicans find a way to do themselves in politically. In the meantime the Dems are like New Orleans, under water, engulfed by debris, and unable to answer pleas for help.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in the Black Commentator, whee this first appeared. Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City. She can be reached via e-Mail at email@example.com. You can read more of Ms. Kimberley’s writings at freedomrider.blogspot.com.