As regular readers know, this isn't really a politics and current events site. Most of the time, any politics or current events enter as riders on things rhetorical, medieval, or generally literary. Hurricane Katrina is a temporary foray into current events, mostly because I wanted to supply a place for locals here in Troy a way to get information on how to help out.
So, it will may come as no surprise that my comments on Hurricane Katrina and the politics of blame have more to do with rhetoric than politics. Some days ago, I noticed some people in the blogosphere expressing surprise that CNN's coverage of the Katrina relief efforts were the most positive of all the cable news outlets [though this weekend they seem to have turned a corner ... if you are part of the relief effort, expect CNN to join the throng attacking you. No good deed goes unpunished, as the cliche goes]. I wondered why that was myself, since one would think that CNN's ideology would have put them on the front lines of the attack.
At first, it seemed to me that the blogosphere was divided among the usual faultlines. Bush-haters began with the message that global warming, caused by Bush's explict refusal to ask the Senate to ratify the Kyoto Treaty. That approach never really caught fire among the Bush-haters, though, probably because it was hard to keep a straight face while making it. The Bush-apologists, on the other hand, simply rolled their cyber-eyes.
After a few days, two new parallel memes began to emerge. One was that the response was deeply flawed, and reflective of Bush Administration failures in Iraq, the economy, or whatever that particular blogger particularly hated Bush over. The other meme was the dark hint that perhaps the Bush Administration was ignoring the situation along the Gulf coast because so many victims were black (and, presumably, Democrats). Bush-apologists responded rather flaccidly to both of these memes (probably because refuting two tracks simultaneously doesn't make for good soundbytes), arguing that there would be time for apportioning blame later. Seeing that Bush-apologists wouldn't fight them on the issue, Bush-haters went into full conspiracy mood, suggesting that the Administration was actively hindering rescue efforts, and had (apparently) been waiting the last three centuries for this opportunity to get rid of New Orleans/blacks/cajun cooking. The Bush-apologists then responded by going off the rails themselves, casting blame on the Democratic mayor of New Orleans (which, they fail to note, is only one city of many affected).
Then, a few days ago, as I was thinking about CNN and the responses of various bloggers, and I noticed a subtler trend, one of geographic proximity. I noticed that even the most rabid Bush-haters who were in the South were not apportioning blame on Bush or FEMA or anyone else. Neither were the Bush-apologists blaming Nagin. I also noticed that the early Bush-apologist meme that we shouldn't be blaming anyone for the tragedy was held by Bush-despising faculty at my home institution. In fact, I began to detect a gnawing anger among the faculty in the dining hall at the way the media were portraying the event.
I think geography may explain this. While there are certainly exceptions to the rule, as a general trend bloggers close to the Gulf coast have been slow to cast blame, whereas bloggers from elsewhere exploded with a hair trigger. This would also explain why CNN seemed slower to cast blame, since you can hardly live in Atlanta and not be aware that New Orleans, lower than sea level and surrounded by water on three sides, has been doomed from its founding. I think nearly everyone in the South who saw the images of Interstate 10 probably uttered the same scatological expletive that I did, knowing full-well what it meant for access to hurricane-stricken areas. But what of bloggers from New York? Chicago? Seattle? Are they simply nuttier, or more ideologically-driven in their Bush hating/apologizing? I think, instead, they are simply unaware of the geography and of the nature of hurricanes coming out of the Gulf. Some bloggers for whom I have a great deal of respect said some indefensible things, and some bloggers whom I expect to forward any wild-eyed meme suddenly became very measured in their rhetoric.
My own opinion about blame, you ask? Mark Twain once said (though the attribution is in question), "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." If you can no longer see the joke embedded in the quote, you've gone in the wrong direction.