Both Parties Entwined in Mediocrity

For some reason this is generating lots of traffic, so I’m reposting it; it must be striking a chord, today.

September 9, 2005
Both parties entwined in mediocrity

Have you ever gone to a doctor to be treated for one thing, only to find that you are suffering from something else, as well, and that both problems are rooted in an iatrogenic third situation – a problem caused by how physicians initially treated another complaint, entirely?

Something like that is happening in America.

Once upon a time, mediocrity was a thing we put up with, in small doses, as the price of getting along in the world. If I were a person of note, you might curry favor with me by offering to keep my slightly dull cousin out of my sight by offering him a job with a title and a decent salary, and in so doing, you would have me in your debt, and I might therefore carve some public funding up in such a way that a sizable chunk of it went to your business. We would have an understanding.

That sort of back-scratching, which has always resulted in the dim and inept failing ever-upwards on the backs of the general public, has long had “its place” in business and in politics. Especially in politics.

One of the revelations of Hurricane Katrina is that local, state and federal politics have gone from maintaining a passing acquaintance with mediocrity, in the form of unqualified people in some jobs and the misplaced expenditures of some public monies, to a full-bodied embrace of mediocrity as the norm, rather than the necessary exception. Mediocrity is becoming the many-tentacled beast that is subduing the drive and sapping the energy of our leadership and the populace in general.

Want to castigate FEMA director Michael Brown and accuse the Bushies of Republican Cronyism? Well, you can, and you’d be perfectly right to. But then you have to recall that he was confirmed by a voice vote when the congress was controlled by Democrats, and then you have to wonder what favors were exchanged by both parties in order to bring this mediocrity into his job.

You want to complain about distribution of government monies in order to fortify levees, well…then you have to consider that, according to the Washington Post:

…over the five years of President Bush’s administration, Louisiana has received far more money for Corps civil works projects than any other state, about $1.9 billion; California was a distant second with less than $1.4 billion, even though its population is more than seven times as large.
…hundreds of millions of dollars (of that money) have gone to unrelated water projects demanded by the state’s congressional delegation…Despite a series of independent investigations criticizing Army Corps construction projects as wasteful pork-barrel spending, Louisiana’s representatives have kept bringing home the bacon.

For example, after a $194 million deepening project for the Port of Iberia flunked a Corps cost-benefit analysis, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) tucked language into an emergency Iraq spending bill ordering the agency to redo its calculations. The Corps also spends tens of millions of dollars a year dredging little-used waterways such as the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, the Atchafalaya River and the Red River — now known as the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway, in honor of the project’s congressional godfather — for barge traffic that is less than forecast….

Reading that, you have to shake your head and consider that enormous amounts of money meant to make people safe has instead been misdirected in service of “backhome cronyism” with mediocrity dominant and public safety played fast and loose.

Want to kvetch that FEMA should never have been melded into the Department of Homeland Security? Okay…but again, that action was accomplished by a bi-partisan act of congress (one which – it must be pointed out – now “critical” voices helped to vote in). How about we think back to President Bush not wanting to even create the DHS, but being forced to because of political concerns. Because congress wanted it. Because America said she wanted it – wanted another bloated, mismanaged and ultimately impotent sprawling bureaucracy in which to incubate more and more mediocrity.

Do you want to blame President Bush for not doing enough to bring relief workers and the military into Louisiana immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit, well you could – and to a point you would have some room for legitimate complaint – but then you’d have to recall that the Governor of Louisiana had the power to call in the National Guard and would have had to cede that in order to bring in the armed forces.

So what, you say? The president should have just done it and dealt with the fallout later? Okay…then you have to consider the reality that if he had “just done it” you would now be screaming that he usurped a sitting governor – a female and a democrat, at that – because he disrespected her and wanted to roll over her and take control “like the Nazi-tyrant we’ve always known he is.”

You can’t have it both ways, sorry. You want to make political hay out of EVERYTHING someone does…you end up tying your own hands, losing credibility, or both.

If you want to somehow blame the federal government for not getting food and water to the poor, trapped folks in the Superdome, for whom hundreds of schoolbusses were NOT deployed in evacuation efforts, you have to first, finally, listen to the American Red Cross when they say they were not permitted to give aid and comfort to Katrina’s victims – ordered out by the STATE Homeland Sercurity folks – because feeding them “might encourage them to stay…”
You’d have to consider that Louisiana’s strategy for evacuating folks was basically – “starve ‘em out.”

Do you want to complain about the vulnerability of our oil refineries, how they are all grouped in one area (nowhere near where YOU live), and they don’t process enough oil, anyway…then consider that between environmental lawsuits and NIMBYism no new refineries have been built in 30 years – that instead of having new refineries scattered about so that a single storm does not leave us vulnerable, we have aging refineries, grouped together – an invitation to disaster via terrorism or nature. Want to complain about gas prices? Remember back to the 1970’s, when our leadership told us we would “work to no longer be dependent on foreign oil,” just before we stopped tapping our own immense resources. Why did we do that? To please the greenies! “I vote to stop that refinery and you fill my campaign coffers!” More backscratching, more politics played without regard to the needs of the country.

Did you contact your representatives and demand differently? No? Neither did I. Perhaps a handful of folks did, but not enough.

WE are, my dear friends, part of the problem. WE contribute to all of this intertwined, incestuous political backscratching, playacting, cronyism and pork-funding, because we’ve put up with it, thinking it all a basically harmless, unfixable nuisance. “It’s just the way things are done,” we said. You want someone to blame? Have a mirror handy?

Political considerations, payback, noisy special-interest groups and public apathy have all played a role in the making of the Katrina Disaster. ALL have fallen short and the end result is that mediocrity is no longer the sometime-thing we shrug off and endure, but the defining characteristic of too many – far too many – of our public entities. We see it now, and we sure don’t like the look of it.

While representatives from the City of New Orleans, to the State of Louisiana, to the Congress, to the Senate, to the Federal Governmen (and all future-candidates in between) have been either pausing to consider the politics of a thing (admittedly, given the tenor of the times they are sometimes forced to), or have been stridently marching across the television screens to denounce, decry and denigrate, the sole image they manage to project – sadly – is one of staggering MEDIOCRITY. And the ladies and gentlemen of the Fourth Estate – with rare exceptions – project nothing better.

Only the ordinary Americans – the ones who make up our First Response Teams, our National Guards, our Military, our Civil Patrols, our Community Relief Centers, our Churches, our Synagogues, our small businesses and such, have projected strength and stability. They have shown themselves to possess some extraordinary mettle – of being made of strong, fine, fire-tested stuff. They are not botoxed and liposuctioned beauties, they are not fine athletes, they are not super-educated intelligentsia. They are not well-connected hangers-on, they are not politically useful idiots. They are not complainers or fault-finders.

They are simply folk who see a need and do what has to be done, with openness of heart and plenty of common sense. There is nothing spectacular about the food they are cooking to feed the hungry. There is nothing note-worthy about the garb they are bringing to clothe the naked. None of these people would be worth particular notice by the likes of the chattering classes who making so much noise – so much noise – on every available television and radio station in the nation.

But if we are ever to rise and break loose from the stranglehold of mediocrity which is threatening to overwhelm every bold or constructive notion this country is called to embrace, we are going to have to look to these “unremarkable” people, who have demonstrated the ability to identify priorities, to look beyond their own needs and work for the common good, and to move through a catastrophe, getting things done, rather than dance around it with harrumphs and pointed fingers.

Katrina has exposed a previously unattended-to, pus-filled sore on America’s backside, a growth called complacentus expediencea gimmee. For America to recover, that sore is going to have to be lanced and drained.

I expect to hear lots of howling.

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