Tuesday, March 29, 2005

days of our queens

A Republican clinamen of public accountability was held here in southwest Florida yesterday. FEMA Secretary Michael Brown, at the behest and invitation of legacy Congressguy Connie Mack IV, arrived to answer questions from folks still "coping" with problems from last year's four hurricanes.

Many of the people who came were coughing, asmatic, living in mold-infested homes, or cars. Some had received FEMA trailers but had no furniture. Some had applied for FEMA trailers but, for reasons lost in the bureaucrasphere, had been denied, or simply ignored.

Mr. Brown's approach was to rally, as though it were a matter of morale. Like a beloved general who knows all will be well if the troops are loyal, he listened attentively, always with the disclaimer that he might not know all the answers, but he'd get them.

But it was not a matter of questions or answers. Nothing in the need these people were facing took the essential nature of a question, or even a complaint. There was simply the plight they are in, and the absence of a way out.

Nearly every time a resident had coughed her way through some harrowing description of loss and unintelligible Federal stonefacedness, Brown summoned a FEMA lackey in navy blue and have name and information taken, for follow-up.

No one seemed to be charged with taking notes to make sure all the promises of follow up were actually recorded, let alone followed up.

The format was reminiscent of the Springer show, where some obstreperous guest is seized by giant bouncers and wrestled to the ground. Here, as these people told their stories, they were hustled off to be attended to in private.

The upshot: several people received promises of help: "We'll look into this." "We'll see if we can't get you some help." "I don't know why this happened, but we'll see what we can do."

But, apart from these individual promises, there was the absence of any program. That is, we did not learn how FEMA sees its mission. What its exit strategy is, with less than two months before the next hurricane season begins. What it plans to do with all the people it has put in highly destructible trailers. How it is working with other agencies to move people out of emergency treatment mode to something like a return to real life.

This is what I meant by "Republican": There's the show of good will. The revival-meeting singling out of individuals (Schiavo) for high-minded commitment. But no general pledge, or mission, or goal, or thought-through strategy, which the public can help shape or evaluate. Instead of a policy for recourse, this show was the recourse, as if FEMA were a private charitable organization whose model is Queen for a Day. We leave the auditorium grateful for the spilt milk of human kindness, lacking any discernible public accountability.

This seems a form of clubism, rooted in the meeting formats of dissenting religious sects of the Reformation. The same sort of thing staged in localities everywhere you turn by Mr. Bush to push his empty visions of Freedom on the March and Social Insecurity. It's private, intimate, ecstatic in a frigid sort of way. It is not possible to engage it in open political debate, because it has substituted the affective format of USian tent shows for democratic process and accountability.

It works because we saw it on TV.


Blogger jiri said...

Cool Blog, I never really thought about it that way.

I have a Hurricane Katrina blog. It pretty much covers hurricane related stuff.

Thank you - and keep up the thoughts!

10/03/2005 7:35 PM  

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