Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hurricane Katrina Rhetorical Year In Review

Can you feel the hate?

Exactly one year ago today Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast region and devastated communities in Louisiana and Mississippi. To mark this anniversary there will be more than enough retrospective news pieces brought to us via television, radio and print recounting the strength of the storm, the deaths, the millions of dollars in damage and the aftermath.

But there's an added twist as well. This anniversary coincides with mid-term election season. So in addition to the usual fare we will also have plenty of opportunities to see our elected officials, more interested in the reconstruction of their political fortunes than that of the Gulf Coast, once again descend upon the scene of the tragedy to practice a little damage control. With an eye on this coming wave of cynical, PR-driven insults to our collective intelligence let us take this first anniversary as an opportunity to cross-check what is surely to be said today against past commentary on the subject, be it from the Bush Administration, the Republican Party in general or the conservative movement as a whole.

After Katrina's assault the nation's "3rd Coast" was hit a second time by windstorm of a different kind, the sound of which differed noticeably from what we'll hear over the next few days. The victims of Katrina were routinely dismissed and insulted by the Bush administration, its supporters in congress and the right-wing media in a disturbing orgy of victim-blaming and demonization.

What follows is a quick, partial collection of what I consider to be some of the most infamous Hurricane Katrina quotes from the right wing over the last year. Your results may vary. While compiling this list I came to realize that there are so many examples of right-wing hate-speech directed at the victims of this tragedy that I could never do them justice in a single blog post. So, I ask that any egregious omissions the reader may notice here be added in the comments section via the link below. The best will be used as an update to this post (with thanks, of course). Until then, without any further adieu, I humbly present the Hurricane Katrina Rhetorical Year in Review:

August 31, 2005: Just 2 days after Katrina hit, while people were still languishing and dying in the aftermath, the Republican Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert suggested that lawmakers think about whether it's worth the effort to rebuild New Orleans saying: "It doesn't make sense to me," and "It looks like that place could be bulldozed."

September 1, 2005: Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff speaking NBC's Today show: "The critical thing was to get people out of there before the disaster... Some people chose not to obey that order. That was a mistake on their part."

September 4, 2005: Again, while people are still dying in the aftermath, the GOP's #3 man in the Senate, Rick Santorum (R-PA) , is quoted on WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh, PA saying, "I mean, you have people who don't heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving."

September 5, 2005: Former First Lady and current First Mom, Barbara Bush, speaking on the flood of displaced Katrina victims seeking shelter in Texas: "What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality... And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

Yeah, they're really getting over, the lucky duckies.

September 6, 2005: Columnist Karen H. Pittman of Renew America, a vehicle of the perennial GOP candidate for something or another, Alan Keyes, writes this about Katrina's victims: "I can't help it, but I have an inherent antipathy towards that certain sub-species of human animal that is now commandeering the streets of that fetid city, truly now a razed City of the Dead. I haven't the sufficiently impoverished vernacular to express just how thoroughly revolted I am by these mack daddies and gangstars and brazen bitches-with-FATitudes(-in-these-lowlife-latitudes) when I hear them squawking on-camera about how "ain't nobody did nuthin' fa us" — when they were told to leave!... "I say let the gangsters drown in their toxic soup. If they aren't killed by Guardsmen, and they aren't rescued, they will soon be dead of typhoid. So be it. They chose."

Speaks for itself.

September 9, 2005: The Wall Street Journal reports that Republican State Representative from Baton Rouge, Richard H. Baker, was overheard saying, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

Again, it speaks for itself.

September 9, 2005: Former aide to President Nixon, convicted Watergate felon and one of the leading lights of the so-called "Christian" right, Charles Colson, speaking on the Trinity Broadcast Network said, "God allowed Katrina to happen to bring attention to lack of preparation for terrorist attack."

September 13, 2005: Fox News' Bill O'Reilly blames the victims. As documented by Media Matters for America, defending the miserable response of the Bush administration to the disaster on his radio program O'Reilly claimed that "many, many, many" of Katrina's victims were "drug-addicted", "thugs" who "can't carry on a conversation", "will never, ever be able to fend for themselves and make a living" and "spend all their entitlement money on drugs and alchohol."

September 17, 2005: Speaking on Fox News' Newsday, conservative columnist Jim Pinkerton accused Katrina's victims of "whining all the time on TV to get more federal money."

October 17, 2005: Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson, founder and president of Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND) and prominent figure in the faux-black group, Project 21 had this to say about the victims in New Orleans: "75 percent of New Orleans residents had left the city, it was primarily immoral, welfare-pampered blacks that stayed behind and waited for the government to bail them out."

October 24, 2005: Conservative talk show host, Neil Boortz, speaking about a female victim of Hurricane Katrina, recommends she take up prostitution in lieu of receiving federal aid: "Rolanda is worried about being evicted from the hotel. She says, 'We have a place to stay. We have food. The only worry is how long it will last.'" That's all she's worried about, the only worry. And it goes through the whole article here talking about how fed up Rolanda is with FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and how she spends all this time on a computer looking for more free housing. Not one mention in the entire story anywhere about the "W" word, W-O-R-K, work, job. I dare say she could walk out of that hotel and walk 100 yards in either direction on Fulton Industrial Boulevard [the street on which the hotel is located] here in Atlanta and have a job. What's that? Well, no, no, no... If that's the only way she can take care of herself, it sure beats the hell out of sucking off the taxpayers."

June 6, 2006: Conservative radio talk show host, Neil Boortz again: "I love talking to you about these Katrina refugees. I mean, so many of them have turned out to be complete bums, just debris. Debris that Hurricane Katrina washed across the country."

July 6, 2006: The Sheriff of Bigotry, St. Tamany Parish, LA Sheriff Jack Strain made this "law and order" statement to a local TV station in New Orleans about displaced Katrina victims who may pass through his jurisdiction: "Now I don’t get into calling people names and all that fact, but if you’re gonna walk the streets of St. Tammany Parish with dreadlocks and "Chee Wee" hairstyles, then you can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff’s deputy."

Yes, even as this disaster was still unfolding there were some among us who could not resist the urge to dance on the victims' graves . On this solemn anniversary, as we reflect on the loss of a unique piece of American history and culture -- a whole American city -- and, of course, the thousands of fellow Americans who were lost or disposessed, do also take a moment to also remember what was said about them and by whom.

...And don't miss the rebroadcast of Spike Lee's, When the Levees Broke tonight @ 8PM EDT on HBO.