Friday, October 07, 2005

Compassion, Conservatism...

com.pas.sion...n.... sympathy... to feel pity... sorrow for the sufferings or trouble of another or others, accompanied by an urge to help; deep sympathy; pity

com.pas.siona.ate... adj. feeling or showing compassion; sympathizing deeply; pitying

The President's Tuesday morning Rose Garden press conference (an uncharacteristic 55 minute stretch) and subsequent "important speech" on "The War on Terror" have stuck with me all week, but not in the ways the Administration intended, I'm sure.

What is more transparent than ever before is the sheer spectacle of President Bush trying to once again come across as being aggressive and effective in the wake of the crashing failure of himself and his own Administration to respond in any consequential manner to Hurricane Katrina, and the subsequent spin of Rita (sorry, but rushing around to photo-ops and mock crocodile tears do not an effective response make; the only increased effectiveness apparent was the Admininstration's muzzling of the press their complete absence had unleashed for Katrina).

You can't bully nature or storms, and you can't bully ineffectual cronies who failed as badly as Brownie did (too little, too late), but you can bully the public -- and that's what we're seeing and hearing, my friends.

I hope I'm wrong, but the current Orange Alert in NYC comes too tidily on the heels of this week's alarmist speech: peppered with the usual factual distortions, lies, connections with 9/11, and conflation of rhetoric (comparing non-national, non-centralized religious zealots to the once-powerful national superpowers that were mobilized behind the Cold War was an unforgivable stretch) the fear-mongering has returned with a vengeance. This, of course, has nothing to do with the realities exposed by Katrina, and everything to do with Bush and his circle trying to redefine the issues and thus reestablish previously effective scare tactics necessary to maintaining lock-step compliance with their power base. In hopes of whipping down critics while whipping up plunging support for the President's performance and policies, we're instantly back to "The War on Terror" and Orange Alerts; but the grim reality of Katrina and the horrific exposure of all-too-successful Federalist policies (which have eroded and ravaged various infrastructures necessary to dealing with such disasters) in full effect are still fresh wounds.

Since Katrina isn't a definable, targetable "enemy" and cannot be made into such, it's time to redirect our collective ire and fear back "on target." Hey, there's a policy.

The disconnect between the swagger and rhetoric, the bullying cocksure aggressive posturing and pontificating, and reality -- having seen how ineffectual Bush and his own were in Katrina's thrall, heaven help us if we do suffer another terrorist attack! -- is only more apparent now. The Rose Garden press conference (a highlight of which was Bush's fantasizing about dealing with a potential avian flu epidemic with military might and quarantining of any infected populace) and "War on Terror" speech betray the impoverished imagination of a man and administration that sees only suppression, repression, and brute force as a means of dealing with any disruption of order -- their order -- and the escalating bid to concentrate power in such a way that the Commander in Chief enjoys the unquestionable Divine Right of a King.

(After all, a King needn't set aside a moment to deal with the questions of a grieving mother of a fallen son; Bush responded Tuesday to a question whether he is still a "compassionate conservative" in the affirmative, churlishly coining the word "compassion" with fresh scorn in the wake of his ignoring Cindy Sheehan's request for a minute of his time. This is neither a compassionate President or King, and that is now abundantly clear; note that Sheehan's unexpected public visibility and the subsequent galvanizing of anti-war sentiments are more the result of Bush's refusal than Sheehan's tenacity, though Bush and his circle can only resent her surfacing. A crumb, a mere crumb of compassion might have made such a difference.)

There is nothing compassionate or conservative about these power fantasies of our President, extremist and radical revisionist conceits which he is increasingly unabashed about articulating and pursuing. In the second week of post-Katrina public outrage, Bush fielded the desire to wield the military as the preferred method of dealing with natural disasters and any calamity or disorder within our borders. Of course, this would require major changes in US laws, a radical concept even the Pentagon has reacted to with some skepticism. Whether they are bristling at the principle of martial law being contrary to a functional Democracy, or not wanting to be set-up as the next 'fall guy' for this Administration's increasing refusal of any culpability for their own ruthless actions and resultant shortcomings is difficult to determine.

"The president ought to have all options -- assets on the table to be able to deal with something this significant," Bush said; note the very wording echoing his pre- and post-Iraq War speeches and responses to press conference questions. Now, of course, the 'enemy' would be infected and diseased US citizens -- you and I, bunky -- which should give even the most die-hard Bush supporter pause.

I'm relieved to see, read, and hear that I was hardly alone in my alarm at Bush's savoring (yes, savoring) the thought of military-imposed quarantines and suppression of diseased citizenry (that was his only suggested means of dealing with a pandemic, with nary a thought or word of concern for those suffering -- hardly a compassionate response, is it?). The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that none other than Dr. Irwin Redlener (associate dean of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, director of its National Center for Disaster Preparedness) reacted to Bush's remarks as proposing an "extraordinarily draconian measure... the translation of this is martial law in the United States." Got that?

Redlener further noted that such measures would be unnecessary (quoting the AP article, not Redlener per se) "if the nation had built the capability for rapid vaccine production, ensured a large supply of anti-virals like Tamiflu, and not allowed the degradation of the public health system."

Degradation of the public health system -- the legacy of "compassionate conservatism," as this Administration defines itself, at work.

con.serve... to keep, preserve... 1 to keep from being damaged, lost, or wasted; save

con.serv/a.tism... n. the principles and practices of a conservative person or party; tendency to oppose change in institutions and methods

con.ser/va.tive... 1 conserving or tending to conserve; preservative 2 tending to preserve established traditions or institutions and to resist or oppose any changes in these [conservative politics, conservative art] 3 of or characteristic of a conservative... 6 moderate; cautious; safe [a conservative estimate]...

In his Rose Garden press conference Tuesday, President Bush also stated, with that emphatic patriarchal impatience of his (speaking as if we were all idiots, beneath contempt), that the obvious solution to the current gas "crisis" (high prices at the pump in a year of record high profits for petroleum corporations) was to "build more refineries," stated with a smug piety.

Build more refineries -- not conserve our resources. Conserve, after all, is the root of Conservatism, is it not?

This President, this administration, has nothing to do with conservatism. They have conserved nothing. They have, in fact, racked up the greatest national deficit in history, while keeping the mind-boggling expenses of the Iraq war and Katrina relief off the table, as if to hide that monstrous portion of the debt and burden to our children and subsequent generations; they have, in fact, damaged, "lost," and wasted vast resources; they have never been moderate, cautious, or safe; they have plunged us as a nation into war -- by its very nature and their own definition, an inherently unwinnable "war" against a military tactic, not a nation or definable entity or force -- and squandered resources sorely needed to protect our nation from real forces of devastation; they have upended, derailed, and demolished long-standing traditions and institutions to benefit their corporate supporters and consolidate their own power.

This is a radical extremist President and Administration, incapable of compassion, in love only with power, money, and force.

Understand how profit-driven free-market forces have brought us to this empasse, in both our health care and petroleum industries.

There have been no refineries built since the 1970s because it is more profitable for the petroleum industry to maximize existing refinery output. Building new refineries would cut into profits considerably. Bush knows this -- he is, after all, an oil man -- but this allows him to pretend to have an answer that "makes sense" to the commmon US citizen. It also supports the kind of corporate-welfare "energy policies" this administration continues to propose and ram through as far as it can, strip mining public-health-protecting environmental policies (including the now-greatly-in-peril "Clean Air" regulations) that serve no public good, but allow for increasing profitability and consolidation of unquestionable corporate power for the energy industries.

Vaccines are in such low supply annually because it is not a profitable undertaking for any corporation to undertake. In fact, public health in general is in danger because free market forces simply have no initiative or imperative to engage with true public health issues -- there's no profit to be made in any sector that involves pro-actively or pre-emptively protecting a growing poverty-level populace. Had free-market forces alone been left to deal with the outbreak of Polio in the 1940s and early '50s, we'd still be dealing with that disease. That we are still in this dilemma in the wake of the Anthrax scare, five fucking years of government-led fantasizing about the apocalyptic potential of bioterrorism and/or pandemic outbreaks of killer viruses, and the Katrina disaster is ample evidence of the fact that neither President Bush nor his Administration has taken a single meaningful step toward reacting to either 9/11, media-metastasized fears of national disasters, or the subsequent real natural disasters with the "public good" or "public health" in mind.

They have not even conserved -- much less nurtured -- those programs which did effectively work in these arenas. They have, in fact, done everything in their power to undermine, starve, and strip those programs, policies, and institutions.

That was terribly apparent in the wake of Katrina. It is still terribly apparent. In his Rose Garden speech, Bush touted small business and free market forces as the greatest response to Katrina, the key to resurrecting New Orleans. The problem is, as noted in a number of stories on NPR and Marketplace this week, there is no business to be had in devastated New Orleans -- the few businesses left standing or re-opened have no cash customers, a natural consequence of such a disaster -- and the only massive amounts of money changing hands are between speculative realtors serving out-of-state interests (big business already!) and those (thankfully no longer no-bid) government contracts for rebuilding.

Which brings me back to Bush's impoverished fantasies about how he, as President and Commander-in-Chief, imagines himself handling a pandemic of avian flu. I likened it to a George Romero movie on Wednesday morning; I have to take that back. Bush hasn't the imagination to see (as Romero always does) the downside of such wielding of force in the face of contagion, disease, natural disaster. He envisions and savors only the power needed to contain, suppress, quash a stricken and terrified public.

He envisions only militaristic "Armies of Compassion" (to flaunt his own beloved terminology), missing the Orwellian reality therein. True "Armies of Compassion," President Bush, are not in it for the money or profit or kickbacks to the Carlysle Group; in a battle such as that you are fondling, true "Armies of Compassion" are armed with the science you so despise, with medicine which is not per se profitable to government-brokered pharmaceutical companies, with reason you so persistantly spurn and resent.

So, the free market having failed, the government having failed, all that's left is to bring in the military. Alas, you don't fight disease, suffering, blight, or suffering with firepower -- but you can look like one hell of a quick-response Commander-in-Chief if you are empowered to mobilize those tank divisions at the first outbreak of avian flu.

Conservation -- much less compassion -- of any form has nothing to do with this President or Administration.

In the wake of Katrina, the re-revving of the government "War on Terror" fear-mongering to rally support can only redirect our fears -- more properly, our outrage -- in the most rational, logical direction:
this President and his Administration.