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Fighting Back

This column was written by William F. Buckley Jr.


A joke I laughed at 50 years ago features a man who at the end of the first race was up 200. At the end of the fifth race, up $20,000. At the end of the eighth, he is -- wiped out. He makes his disconsolate, infuriated way to the parking lot and on the walkway passes by a stranger who is bent over, fastening a shoelace. The hapless bettor aims a furious roundhouse kick, sprawling his victim on the ground. "Whaddaya do that for?" the shocked stranger says angrily from the ground.

He is answered, "You're always tying your shoelace!"

A lead columnist in the New York Times explains the real meaning of the Katrina catastrophe.

Poverty.

Mr. Nicholas Kristof tells us that the infant mortality rate in America's capital is twice as high as in China's capital. "Under Mr. Bush, the national infant mortality rate has risen for the first time since 1958. The U.S. ranks 43rd in the world in infant morality. So" -- Reader: brace yourself -- "in some ways the poor children evacuated from New Orleans are the lucky ones because they may now get checkups and vaccinations."

The social diagnostician gets right to the meat of what Mr. Bush did to generate the horrors of New Orleans. The Bush administration "has systematically cut people out of the social fabric by redistributing wealth from the most vulnerable Americans to the most affluent. It's not just that funds may have gone to Iraq rather than to the levees in New Orleans; it's also that money went to tax cuts for the wealthiest rather than vaccinations for children."

That diagnosis is so drenched in balderdash it almost defies analysis. Let it rest that gross spending under Bush, and excluding Iraq, is the highest in U.S. history. And if New Orleans was short of vaccinations, why didn't the Democratic mayor, congressmen, and governor complain about it?

If we are looking for economic causes for the disastrous life in New Orleans, how do we account for thesurvival of life in New Orleans? Over the past decades, black Americans searching for better economic prospects traveled by the millions away from the deep South. Why was the emigration rate from New Orleans, if life there was so unrewarding, so low? What was President Bush supposed to pluck out from New Orleans? That which caused so many Americans, black and white, to remain there, lifetime after lifetime?

Or, starting at the other end, why wasn't the invitation to leave New Orleans welcomed, when finally it came, prompted by the devastation of a hurricane? True, there were those who refused to leave because they could not make their way out of their quarters, however dolorous. Some of these, grandmothers and grandfathers, hadn't left town in the preceding decades, before even the tax laws had changed: Why did they refuse to move now? Had American life pounded rudimentary self-concern from them, as Russian life had pounded it out of serfs two hundred years ago?

Our indomitably energetic society feels a need to come up with an explanation for that for which there is no ready explanation. That impulse has thus far satisfied itself mostly by kicking President Bush to the ground for stopping to tie his shoelace.

No doubt Mr. Bush could have thought of means more quickly to take center stage as dispenser of life and hope. Yet dramatic pauses at historical moments happen. For 24 hours after Manila was captured by the Japanese in 1941, General MacArthur did nothing, a strange immobilization that continues to fascinate historians. And then Pearl Harbor was not a natural disaster, it was the end of a period of intense diplomatic and economic negotiation. What caused the Japanese to strike out at us? Was it infamously bad diplomacy by FDR? Was it the poverty level in Tokyo?

Whatever the initial delays, the unused helicopter, the beached destroyer, the bus without gas, the United States is sweating its way to cope as best we can with perhaps the worst natural catastrophe in our history. A week after it struck, 38,000 National Guard members from 42 states were mobilized, 21 U.S. Navy ships were providing support, 4,000 U.S. Coast Guard, 374 helicopters, 15,000 Search and Rescue personnel, 5,000 tons of supplies distributed, 75,000 people evacuated, 78,000 gallons of fuel brought over water, two critical levees repaired, firefighting aircraft diverted from the northwestern U.S. to Pensacola to support New Orleans firefighting -- and on and on, not coterminous with the pain and suffering undergone, but a long tale of response by a grieving nation that cares deeply. It is chronicled there. And even that repository does not list the prayers that have been said.

By William F. Buckley Jr.
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online

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