In 2005, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush was caught on a microphone saying “Heckuva job, Brownie,” to the then-Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael D. Brown. This quick bit of positive reinforcement for his FEMA head was subsequently (and is to this day) hung around Dubya’s neck and juxtaposed with every iota of human hardship associated with Katrina and New Orleans. How could Bush compliment Brown when so many people were still suffering?
That was then. Consider what we’ve been witnessing since last Tuesday, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, in terms of political leaders and bureaucrats praising one another in a non-stop cavalcade of love and affection. You can’t tune into any of these press conferences, by Bloomberg, Cuomo or Christie, without hearing a great litany of how happy the various leaders and governments and agencies are with one another. “Unprecedented cooperation.” “FEMA is doing everything we ask.” “Couldn’t be happier.” “So grateful.” It has all been crowned, of-course, by the outpouring of gratitude and appreciation on Wednesday between Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and President Barack Obama.
At what point does all of this mutual praise amongst the politicos begin to backfire, amidst the ongoing (and even expanding) misery of so many? There remain millions of people without electric power in New York and New Jersey, where temperatures have been falling into the 40s. There are many still without water supplies, or without safe water supplies, and/or without functioning sewage systems. Food in such areas is also extremely hard to come by. People in Staten Island, Coney Island and the Rockaways are literally crying out for help, and that’s just three places in the New York City area alone that were badly hit. The entire southern part of the island of Manhattan has been under total blackout conditions for four nights now, with all of the associated miseries and a surge in robberies and muggings. And across the entire region, people are literally fighting for gasoline in lines that sometimes stretch for a mile in front of those stations that still have gas to sell. Gasoline means not only the ability to drive to work, but also the ability to drive to a grocery store and buy milk and bread for your family … assuming that the grocery store has power and all that food hasn’t already spoiled. Things are bad out there, and in many important respects they are getting worse. Each day that goes by with these conditions still pressing makes the situation exponentially worse, magnifying the misery, fraying more nerves and boiling more tempers.
If FEMA, the New York State government, the New York City government, Christie, Cuomo, Bloomberg and Obama are all doing such mutually-praiseworthy bang-up jobs, how come so many people are still in such hell?
There may well be obstacles to solving these problems that defy quick solutions. I don’t know; issues such as moving gasoline supplies quickly are not my area of expertise. However, it seems to me, just as a layman, that maybe the people at the top who are running the show and doing all the press conferences and giving each other such enormous credit all the time might have been better off waiting on this mutual praise until the most serious problems in the aftermath of this storm were actually solved.