After Katrina

Katrina has finally done it. When the levees burst and New Orleans went under, the failure of President Bush and his cronies in that most important responsibility of government, protection of its citizens, became a matter of common perception. An immediate corollary effect was that the levees that the administration’s spinmasters and media flacks had erected to protect their masters were also breached. No amount of spin control could keep the unfolding tragedy from the public, nor mask the national shame at our government’s inadequate and tardy response.

Kerry lost the last election for many complicated reasons, but one simple way of looking at it is that Bush seized the offensive early on and held it. Kerry was too often perceived as playing catch-up, running a “yes, but…” kind of campaign. The public wanted the appearance of strong leadership more than they wanted anything else, and they got it in a sense, but now they have learned that strong leadership can be even worse than the alternative if the leader is leading in the wrong direction. And that perception is precisely what Katrina has accomplished.

This moment of national disillusion provides a rare opportunity for someone to step into the breach with ideas that promise not only corrections but also new directions. We must not waste it by frittering it away with finger-pointing and mutual accusations. The gang that got us into this mess is all too skillful at that. No, we need new leaders to step up with positive ideas for the country, and we need them now. The country is ready.

Here are some thoughts as to the shape these new directions might take. I render them as suggestions only.

1) A world at peace. No more imperial ambitions. We are one of the big players, but we believe in cooperation not coercion. More carrots, fewer sticks. We aim for an international order ruled by law. We support the UN and its efforts to keep the peace and mitigate human suffering.

2) A just and prosperous society at home. A society that helps its less fortunate members achieve dignity and decent living standards through such measures as an efficient national health insurance system, more funds for public education, and innovative programs to help in pockets of poverty. All to be funded responsibly, with taxes appropriate to the need and to the future economic health of the nation.

3) An economy that is sustainable environmentally. Cooperation with others in achieving global environmental goals. Domestic policies that support those goals, and act to preserve our national environmental heritage.

In all three of these major areas of concern—international, domestic, and environmental— George W. Bush has done just about everything wrong. His wretched neocon advisers have done us incalculable harm internationally, at enormous cost in prestige and influence as well as in blood and treasure. His domestic policies, based on helping his rich cronies, have divided the nation and beggared our economy. And his environmental policies have been exploitative and short term to put it mildly.

But I repeat, it won’t be enough to fight the next election on whether or not we want to repudiate our present leaders. Let’s have a real discussion of where we want to go. Let’s take these three major areas, international, domestic, and environmental, and put some clothes on them, specific proposals that can be debated. Then let’s go ahead with the next election, put the incumbent rascals into dishonorable retirement, and step out with our heads high, our ideals intact, and a new sense of purpose.

Carl Coon 9/8/05

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