Katrina and a Burden Not Shared
After the hurricane hit, I was outraged at how many conservatives turned the blame away from the government and onto the people who had stayed behind – even as those people were still suffering. The cold-heartedness was sickening. If a man who cannot swim jumps into a river, is the moral response to lecture him from the shore about his decision-making? Or do you jump in to save him? Apparently, the answer is unclear to many.
And that is the conservative contribution to our collapsing sense of shared burden – this belief that anyone who does not pull themselves up by their own bootstraps is unworthy of compassion. We witnessed it in the immediate aftermath and we’ve seen it again and again in the less-than-robust rebuilding efforts. I may have a fair number of rightward opinions but I do not consider myself a “conservative” primarily because I cannot abide by the ideology’s coldhearted strain.
Unfortunately, it’s too easy to look at the pain still gripping New Orleans and blame the whole mess on conservatives. Too many liberals now exist in a cold, us-against-them mindset that breeds contempt for their fellow Americans while inflating their own sense of righteousness. Liberals may be better positioned to show compassion towards New Orleans but how can they marshal the will of the people when they think so little of so many in this nation?
These are sweeping judgments, sure, but the truth is in there. I believe each of us as individuals has the desire to help our fellow men and women. But we are ineffective as individuals. What we need is a national movement. But national movements cannot spring from the two ideological strains currently in power. Both care far more about themselves than about those outside their fold.
Now some might argue we’ve never much had a sense of shared burden – I imagine black Americans do not see the neglect after Katrina as deviating from any previous trends. But the idea of a shared burden is, I believe, a cornerstone of a civil and democratic society. If we cannot rise up and heal our fellow citizens in their times of crisis then what point is there to being an indivisible nation?
I have faith that New Orleans will revive—that the spirit of individuals and small groups will triumph. But I despair that we have not done more, faster. This was an opportunity for us to remind ourselves of what grand achievements we are capable. We failed—and that’s in no small part because our leaders failed to marshal us.