Friday, September 16, 2005


Two Presidential Addresses

Who would have guessed, as the crisis with Katrina and New Orleans unfolded, that the Fourth Act of the Drama would culminate in a serious debate about the limits, philosophic basis, and hidden dangers of Big Government intervention in human affairs?

And even if you had guessed it would come to that, would you ever have guessed that President George W. Bush would make an impassioned argument for the Big Government position, and a popular satirist would be sounding the warning clang of the serious danger such intervention can pose?

Sometimes truth is indeed stranger than fiction. (Stranger, even, than Hollywood conspiracy flicks.)


As an Address to the Nation, President Bush’s discussion of Hurricane Relief on Thursday night, September 15th was a fine piece of oratory, and perhaps one of his more polished and politically well-tuned speeches. Which, given its content, gives rise to serious concerns from the President’s most loyal conservative supporters.

The President immediately harkened to the worst after-effects of the disaster, and spoke of the grave threats that faced survivors. And just as immediately after, the President echoed themes of sacrifice and personal courage he has previously sounded in the days following 9/11, but perhaps not so effectively:
These days of sorrow and outrage have also been marked by acts of courage and kindness that make all Americans proud. Coast Guard and other personnel rescued tens of thousands of people from flooded neighborhoods. Religious congregations and families have welcomed strangers as brothers and sisters and neighbors. In the community of Chalmette, when two men tried to break into a home, the owner invited them to stay -- and took in 15 other people who had no place to go. At Tulane Hospital for Children, doctors and nurses did not eat for days so patients could have food, and eventually carried the patients on their backs up eight flights of stairs to helicopters.

Many first responders were victims themselves, wounded healers, with a sense of duty greater than their own suffering.
This is heady stuff. One commentator remarked that we could have used more of this kind of stirring rhetoric from the President more often since 9/11 and the start of our work in Iraq. (I’d credit the remark if I could remember who it was.) This is also the President’s greatest attribute, he’s a keen observer and obvious believer in the inner strength and courage of Americans. Which only increased the dismay of more conservative supporters, as the President followed these stirring tributes with a pantheon of benefits and expenditures, to sooth every ache and make good every loss.

President Bush elaborated three commitments the Federal Government would affirm for the Nation. The First Commitment was to meet immediate needs, to the tune of $60 Billion, in the aftermath of destruction. The Second Commitment was to “overcome the disaster,” and spearhead the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Delta areas affected by Katrina and subsequent flooding. This would include housing and public infrastructure: roads, bridges, schools, and water systems. The President vowed that Federal funds would cover the “great majority” of these costs, unofficially estimated at more than a Trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000).

The President out-progressed his most Progressive detractors with his Third Commitment:
Our third commitment is this: When communities are rebuilt, they must be even better and stronger than before the storm. Within the Gulf region are some of the most beautiful and historic places in America. As all of us saw on television, there's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality. When the streets are rebuilt, there should be many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses, along those streets. When the houses are rebuilt, more families should own, not rent, those houses. When the regional economy revives, local people should be prepared for the jobs being created.

Americans want the Gulf Coast not just to survive, but to thrive; not just to cope, but to overcome. We want evacuees to come home, for the best of reasons -- because they have a real chance at a better life in a place they love.
The core problem with this fine sentiment, of course, is that of all the resources that might actually achieve this noble purpose, very few are the sole or even primary domain of the Federal Government. Remarkably, the possible starting points of solutions that get us to this “better life,” are the same starting points that have always been there, and available: the individual human spirit, faith and will in equal measure, and communities of common purpose. The primary thing that prevented New Orleans from finding these resources before Katrina, was the same force that threatens to prevent it after: Dependence on Federal, State and Local welfare payments and services that obviates any need for personal responsibility.

Does the President mean what he says? He’s never been one to speak idly. He concludes his Paean to Big Government with fine flourish:
These trials have also reminded us that we are often stronger than we know -- with the help of grace and one another. They remind us of a hope beyond all pain and death, a God who welcomes the lost to a house not made with hands. And they remind us that we're tied together in this life, in this nation -- and that the despair of any touches us all.

I know that when you sit on the steps of a porch where a home once stood, or sleep on a cot in a crowded shelter, it is hard to imagine a bright future. But that future will come. The streets of Biloxi and Gulfport will again be filled with lovely homes and the sound of children playing. The churches of Alabama will have their broken steeples mended and their congregations whole. And here in New Orleans, the street cars will once again rumble down St. Charles, and the passionate soul of a great city will return.

In this place, there's a custom for the funerals of jazz musicians. The funeral procession parades slowly through the streets, followed by a band playing a mournful dirge as it moves to the cemetery. Once the casket has been laid in place, the band breaks into a joyful "second line" -- symbolizing the triumph of the spirit over death. Tonight the Gulf Coast is still coming through the dirge -- yet we will live to see the second line.
A fine speech, of noble purposes. A Category 5 Hurricane of Commitments too immeasurable to achieve.

(Or, Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way)

In perfect rebuttal to the President, Scott Ott posted as remarkable a treatise on the fatal flaws of the Welfare State as any written.

That it appears at a blog specializing in satire would be ironic, were it not so pathetic that we can't hear this kind of commentary in the mainstream media. Perhaps it has ever been thus; we look for the greatest insights from those who make us laugh first, then think.

Ott’s genius was to portray his brilliant essay as the speech President Bush intended to deliver Thursday, and probably should have. Ott lays the groundwork immediately, with a first premise that rings true to social conservatives:
But as reconstruction begins, rest assured that we're not merely going to re-establish the conditions that led to such deep pockets of poverty in the midst of affluence. We're not going to continue the enslavement of the poor at the hands of seemingly-benevolent politicians who fail to understand the power of faith, freedom and personal responsibility to build vibrant communities on a foundation of strong families.
Ott’s fictional Presidential Address quotes Martin Luther King’s famous declaration, that America’s founders signed, “A promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the 'unalienable Rights' of 'Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness'.” Where King saw the Civil Rights Movement as an effort to redeem the promissory note, but were repaid with bad faith:
But today, Dr. King's dream remains unfulfilled for many in the richest land the world has ever seen, because government has substituted one bad check for another. We have replaced the promissory note of freedom and justice, with the public assistance check. The problem is that this new check actually does provide something...a little money. But that government money is counterfeit. It's a cheap replica of a paycheck. It fills the belly, but empties the soul. It buys things, but only in exchange for life, liberty and happiness.
This is too great a price. Help and assistance is one thing, dependency quite another. Our Welfare State exists in perpetuity, as if Katrina was an ongoing, rather than singular event. And yet the structures of social services are as permanent as the grand constructs of the Army Corps of Engineers. (On second thought, perhaps more permanent.)

The President Bush of Ott’s imagination (and no doubt, preference) declares a bold, yet simple three step plan, in contrast to Bush’s actually avowed “Three Commitments”:

We will lead survivors of the hurricane to embrace the vision and tenacity of the people who conquered the wilderness and built this great nation.
Secondly, the federal government will not bypass or try to supplant the role of community groups, churches, private organizations, local and state governments. Rather we will follow them and pick up the responsibilities that nothing short of federal intervention can handle.
Or Get out of the Way!
Finally, and most importantly, the federal government will get out of the way. We will knock down bureaucratic barriers to progress, eliminate oppressive regulations and lift the burden of confiscatory taxes in the region affected by the hurricane.
And, as for stirring rhetoric, Ott announces a triumphant vision of a return to an Ideal that America always strove for, but somehow failed to achieve:
Sometimes I wonder how much greater America would be if we had not been dragged down for the first four score and seven years by our addiction to slavery. I wonder how much more magnificent our nation might have been if the poisonous effects of racial injustice hadn't lingered so long after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

What if we had started this country with freedom and justice for all?
Is it too late? Is it too much to hope for that America can truly live up to the grand purpose of its founding documents? We may never know, unless a leader is bold enough to challenge the orthodoxies of political correctness.

Star Parker, writing at TownHall, explains the institutional racism that lies at the heart of the Welfare State, but it may not be driven how you think:
What we are witnessing is a well-honed black political public-relations operation geared to obfuscation, stoking hatred and fear, and nurturing helplessness and dependence among black citizens. Such efforts keep black politicians powerful, diversity businesses prosperous and blacks poor.
Social Conservatives have long waited for voices to rise up and reach public attention, decrying the terrible price that welfare exacts from its recipients.

Parker concludes with a warning:
If we allow political opportunists to again allege racism to deflect our attention from solving the real problems of fixing our families and educating our children, surely more tragedy awaits us.
One can only hope that true Progressives, who might otherwise be counted on to have ideals for the family of man, yet mindful of the realities and weaknesses of the humans involved, can be brought to their senses. The modern American welfare system is itself a vestige of now widely discredited and abysmally failed in practice Socialist theory. The costs of this extravagant experiment in social engineering have risen geometrically since the New Deal, and the results have gotten worse and worse.

Yet there is still hope, and it may lie in what is uniquely American in all of us. In response to my recent post on interactions with Iraqis, John Schroeder of Blogotional observed:
One of the things that makes America unique is the quality of the people that live here. We are unique. We are the best the world has to offer because, simply, if you are a person seeking the best for you and your family, if you want to work hard to accomplish something - you get up from the place in the world where you live with less opportunity and you come to America, the land of greatest opportunity.
Emma Lazarus wrote these famous words in, "The New Colossus," which were then inscribed on a plaque near the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
This is truly the promise of America.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1943, explained the single and exceptional strand that binds all Americans, new and old, established or newly arrived:
Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race and ancestry. A good American is one who is loyal to this country and to our creed of liberty and democracy. (1)

(Quoted from the Great Experiment: Faith and Freedom in America, by Os Guinness.)
This truth remains unaltered, in the 60 some odd years since FDR uttered these words. It is deeply unfortunate that so many, who speak intent to improve their nation, limit its citizens to such low expectations, rather than urge them to aspire to the height of our Ideals.

(Hat Tip to Powerline)

UPDATE: Caught a link from Will on the Clicked feature over at MSNBC. Just for the record, I wasn't so much criticizing the President's (actual) speech, but rather remarking that Scott Ott's was so much more ... needed.

Links: Stones Cry Out, Indepundit, Wizbang, Sister Toldjah, Captain's Quarters, Mudville Gazette, Basil's Blog, Outside the Beltway, bRight & Early

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