Blogs > Cliopatria > Hot Mess (Part 2 of Let's Go Ahead and Say 3)

Aug 30, 2011

Hot Mess (Part 2 of Let's Go Ahead and Say 3)

At the Huffington Post this weekend, Robert L. Cavnar rearranges large portions of the human past to rebuke extremist "anti-government forces" of the kind that criticize FEMA, an agency we finally realize we need just as an "unprecedented" hurricane barrels toward the East Coast of the... Wait, did that already happen?

Cavnar builds his argument on a foundational narrative of history that sees a long string of (triumphant) dead people stacking each brick of progress on top of the last, building toward a perfected condition that can only be impeded by voting Republican; sometimes we move forward in time, sometimes we pull the wrong lever and move back. Tuesday? Better than Monday, 'cause of it happened later. Unless that asshole Bush is still around.

But the details get a little strange: "Many anti-government forces have successfully staked out territory that asserts that the 'free market' cures all ills, which it doesn't. They declare that the government can't do anything right (except for winning 2 World Wars and going to the Moon in less than 10 years), and that it should be shrunk down to the size that it can be 'drowned in the bathtub.'"

See, government isn't like markets, government produces order and progress. For example? Two world wars in forty years. Suck on that, anti-government loons: if we listened to you people, who the hell would have firebombed Dresden? How then Verdun, you anarchists? Let's see you Tea Party idiots build nice straight trenches like that. Burning gas that sears human lungs and makes the blood come roaring up -- where's your hotshot "free market" now, Friedrich Stupidpants Hayek?

The kind of mind that looks at a century full of mass murder and sees a steady accumulation of rational progress also has other blind spots that seem so obvious you'd think he would eventually sort of notice that he can't see that big missing part right over there. So Cavnar tells us this: "Some politicians, notably extreme conservatives, oppose any government intervention." And then he offers Ron Paul's view of FEMA as evidence: "We should be coordinated but coordinated voluntarily with the states. A state can decide. We don't need somebody in Washington."

Ron Paul doesn't believe in any government intervention -- he just believes in potent and well-organized states that coordinate with other states to mutually and voluntarily develop regional responses to emergencies. If you're upset about, say, Chris Christie or Scott Walker being governors, here's your comfort: they don't actually govern anything. They just run, like, big regional clubs. New Jersey: this week only, add on a family member for half price!

While Cavnar turns a century of bloodshed into a miracle of modern engineering, and turns states into NGOs, he also just frankly and plainly reinvents the more-recent past. We're currently in a struggle over basic principles, he writes, "since the government became a target of political ideologues with the stated goal of dismantling essential government services such as was done to FEMA during the past administration."

Now, okay: I was in Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina, flat on my back under a bunk on a concrete floor, laughing at the guy from B Co. who went outside to try to smoke a cigarette. (He lived.) And the thing I remember about the following days is the unbelievable flood of federal logistics, starting with massive convoys of brand-new SUVs with F-E-M-A roughed out on the sides in masking tape. Truck after truck after truck brought ice, and pay close attention to this: When a local sheriff tried to distribute some to sick people who needed to keep medicine cold, he was arrested and (unsuccessfully) prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office. He didn't follow procedure. The ice for sick people to cool their medication? This dude just gave it to sick people to cool their medication. The travesty of local government, people -- is this what you want?

Versions of this story happened everywhere: doctors who rushed to damaged cities to help, but were turned aside by federal bureaucrats. Fire departments from all over the country that rushed crews to the Gulf Coast, where FEMA told them to stand down, stand down, you haven't even finished the proper inbriefings.

And yet somehow Robert Cavnar concludes that FEMA was dismantled during the Bush administration. If only.

Compare this historical model with the narrative Al Gore farted out of his increasingly gaseous head this week: anyone who questions that global warming is caused by humans is like Bull Connor, and their disbelief has to be confronted the way the forces of progress dealt with those who turned firehoses on other human beings. Wonderfully, perfectly, Gore's interviewer jumps in to say that he's not sure racism can be compared to a discussion of global warming, because global warming involves science, so that's different.

But of course, and I'm repeating myself, racism was deeply established in science, and racist views were respectable views. The Letter from Birmingham Jail was a response to educated clergy, who wanted to know why this Martin Luther King lunatic was acting like a goddamn beatnik and getting himself thrown in jail like a common street hoodlum. (Could it be the communists? Could this King fellow be channeling the Peking Line?) The science vs ignorance dichotomy won't work, here: too many of the scientists were on the wrong side. Nor will the other dichotomies.

History is progress; government is progress; science is progress; centralization of authority is progress, and devolution of authority is regression.

None of these claims work without some form of lying.

More later.

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