the American political landscape post-Katrina

There’s been a heck of a lot of coverage of the battle for the ideological mind of america in its collective response to Katrina. The left have been very quick to target the incomprehensibly slow response of the Bush government, while the right have looked to lay the blame with local politicians and the looters (or at least the black looters, who were overwhelmingly portrayed at thieves, compared to the footage of white survivors foraging for food.. I’m guessing the divide between those trying to survive and those ‘looting’ was not strictly racial…)

However one area that seems to have come up for discussion more than most has been the effect that America’s welfare system has had on things. One article that I had forwarded to me from a few different sources said that what the aftermath of Kartrina demonstrated was that the welfare state had bred an entire sub-society of spongers and freeloaders with no sense of their place within society, who didn’t see hard work as the answer, but instead looked to the government for handouts etc. etc. It was a particularly poorly written piece, heavy on the appeals to America’s pioneer heart and generalisations about the nature of people on welfare, and very light on the reasoning behind the welfare state or any sense of responsibility for the nation’s poor.

On the other side, this article on the BBC website expresses the hope that Katrina will expose the rotting heart of the American social darwinian project, and that Americans will be able to relight the social concience that got them through the depression.

The responses at the bottom of the page are fascinating from the overwhelmingly supportive, to the scathingly critical, to those who just seem aggrieved that any damn Euro-Commie would dare to comment on the majesty that is the USA.

I’ve never been able to understand the American reaction to the notion of ‘welfare’ – surely the word itself is overwhelmingly positive – an institution to look after the WELFARE of the people. A recogntion of our collective responsibility to the people who share our laws and economy. It seems there are many in the US political elite who refuse to recognise the role of the upwardly mobile in stepping on the heads of the poor. The fallacy of ‘worldwide economic growth’ is writ large across the US political scene, with lots of talk of trickle down economics and a rising tide floating all the boats, and all that horseshit. It clearly doesn’t work. The net has too many holes, the trickle down structure isn’t porous, too many people have no boat to start with, so are drowned.

Katrina has placed the faces of the poorest of the poor on the TV screens of america for the first time. The dark underbelly of the American dream, those for whom it’s been a nightmare, are now on the nightly news. A lot of people seem to be alarmed that so many people were without transport to get out, or without the technology to even know fully what was going on. I’d love to know how many of the ‘looters’ had mental illnesses which they couldn’t afford to get any help for.

It truth, I think arguments about the welfare state in relation to Katrina are a bit of a red herring. The lack of funding for the reinforcing of the levees is a far greater question hanging over it. The lack of any coherent disaster plan, the utter confusiong that permeated the post hurricane planning and led to no-one doing anything except bussing people to the Superdome to die. (actually, that’s where the welfare system comes in – with a decent welfare state comes government-paid doctors, locally practicing, who would have had more chance of knowing what was happening with their patients… The image of people in wheelchairs left outside the superdome, many in desperate need of medication, abandoned to die, is one of the most harrowing TV images I’ve seen since the first pictures of Darfur came through. That alone should be grounds for a total governmental shakeup.)

But why the richest nation on earth should balk at the idea of taxation to help the poor is utterly beyond me. A nation that hold claim to a ‘christian’ heritage, but where the christians overwhelming vote for a party of lower taxation and less assistance for the poor (who’s the Good News meant to be for exactly?) It all leaves me rather bewildered. As I’ve said before here, many of my favourite people in the world are Americans, I love visiting the country, and there are things about the american way of life that we in Britain could really do with a dose of, but the political landscape still leaves me utterly bewildered, incredulous that such a country could put up with the festering sore of abject poverty within its own borders.

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