Maybe Katrina really did have divine origins: Now the storm has performed perhaps the greatest miracle of all, turning George W. Bush into...a liberal. Government Handouts:
Oddly, however, Bush has become a new kind of liberal, one whose principles vary depending upon geography. When it comes to Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, Bush seems to be pretty much the model of a classic, big-spending, big-government liberal, albeit a Gulf Coast Liberal (see my checklist below). In fact, when he crosses those borders, he seems to turn into the walking punchline of the joke Ronald Reagan used to tell, that the most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."
It's true that even before Katrina, conservatives were howling about Bush's profligate spending. Now, the staggering reconstruction allocations for Katrina have amped the howling considerably. But in his national speech Thursday and his radio address Saturday, Bush expanded his Gulf Coast Liberalism dramatically.
Unfortunately, while Bush has chosen liberalism as the lifeline to toss into the Gulf of Mexico, he has yet to apply similar thinking to the Gulf of America, that gulf into which the rest of America's vulnerable and unfortunate -- denied the visual, political and media boon of a sudden, dramatic, natural disaster -- slide in growing numbers. More and more Americans share the same concerns as do Katrina's survivors: Homelessness, poverty, racial injustice, health-care, education. Here's a look at how Bush, in his own words, is addressing all these issues, as a newly minted Gulf Coast Liberal:
"As of today, more than 500,000 evacuee families have gotten emergency help to pay for food, clothing, and other essentials...many of you will be eligible for broader assistance in the future..."
Unemployment Benefits and Job Training:
"The Department of Labor is helping displaced persons apply for temporary jobs and unemployment benefits...
"When the regional economy revives, local people should be prepared for the jobs being created..."
"I propose the creation of Worker Recovery Accounts to help those evacuees who need extra help finding work. Under this plan, the federal government would provide accounts of up to $5,000, which these evacuees could draw upon for job training and education to help them get a good job, and for child care expenses during their job search."
"And the federal government will undertake a close partnership with the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, the city of New Orleans, and other Gulf Coast cities, so they can rebuild in a sensible, well-planned way."
Regulation of Private Industry:
"Clearly, communities will need to move decisively to change zoning laws and building codes, in order to avoid a repeat of what we've seen."
Racial and Economic Justice:
"...there's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality."
From his speech Saturday: "And one day Americans will look back at the response to Hurricane Katrina and say that our country grew not only in prosperity, but also in character and justice..."
Affirmative Action (or is this Quotas?):
"When the streets are rebuilt, there should be many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses..."
"Hundreds of thousands of people from across this region will need to find longer-term housing. Our goal is to get people out of the shelters by the middle of October. So we're providing direct assistance to evacuees that allows them to rent apartments...In the disaster area, and in cities that have received huge numbers of displaced people, we're beginning to bring in mobile homes and trailers for temporary use... Near New Orleans, and Biloxi, and other cities, housing is urgently needed for police and firefighters, other service providers, and the many workers who are going to rebuild these cities...And we'll provide mobile homes, and supply them with basic services..."
Easy Access to Universal Health Care:
"In addition, we're taking steps to ensure that evacuees do not have to travel great distances or navigate bureaucracies to get the benefits that are there for them. The Department of Health and Human Services has sent more than 1,500 health professionals, along with over 50 tons of medical supplies -- including vaccines and antibiotics and medicines for people with chronic conditions such as diabetes...
"To relieve the burden on local health care facilities in the region, we're sending extra doctors and nurses to these areas."
Subsidized Child Care:
"...the federal government would provide accounts of up to $5,000, which these evacuees could draw upon for job training and education to help them get a good job, and for child care expenses during their job search."
Encouraging Labor to Organize:
"And I challenge existing organizations...labor union locals to get in touch with their counterparts in Mississippi, Louisiana, or Alabama, and learn what they can do to help..."
Non-Military Use of the Military:
"It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority
and a broader role for the armed forces -- the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice..."
Putting Faith in Science:
"Protecting a city that sits lower than the water around it is not easy, but it can, and has been done. City and parish officials in New Orleans, and state officials in Louisiana will have a large part in the engineering decisions to come. And the Army Corps of Engineers will work at their side to make the flood protection system stronger than it has ever been."
Reliance on Big Government To Work Quickly, Honestly and Wisely:
"Federal funds will cover the great majority of the costs of repairing public infrastructure in the disaster zone, from roads and bridges to schools and water systems. Our goal is to get the work done quickly. And taxpayers expect this work to be done honestly and wisely -- so we'll have a team of inspectors general reviewing all expenditures...
"The work that has begun in the Gulf Coast region will be one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen. When that job is done, all Americans will have something to be very proud of -- and all Americans are needed in this common effort."
Reliance on Social Security:
"The Social Security Administration is delivering checks."
Endorsement of The New Deal:
"We're the heirs of men and women...who reclaimed the prairie from the Dust Bowl of the 1930s."
Giving Mario Cuomo a Shout-Out:
"When one resident of this city who lost his home was asked by a reporter if he would relocate, he said, 'Naw, I will rebuild -- but I will build higher.' That is our vision for the future, in this city and beyond: We'll not just rebuild, we'll build higher and better..."
"...We've also witnessed the kind of desperation no citizen of this great and generous nation should ever have to know -- fellow Americans calling out for food and water, vulnerable people left at the mercy of criminals who had no mercy...
"You need to know that our whole nation cares about you, and in the journey ahead you're not alone...Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives."
"In the community of Chalmette, when two men tried to break into a home, the owner invited them to stay..."
"...we will identify property in the region owned by the federal government, and provide building sites to low-income citizens free of charge..."
Now, you may argue that Bush is not abandoning his conservative principles: He's merely making exceptions for an area hit by a hurricane. But if that's the case, how long will the rest of America's poor, hungry, jobless, sick and uneducated have to wait for their Katrinas?