Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, that’s for sure. By now we have all heard the appalling comments Mama Bush made last week as she toured the Houston Astrodome surveying the sea of cots for Katrina’s refugees: “So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working [she chuckles here] very well for them.” Even England’s royals are held to a higher standard by the people and the press. Here in America, we don’t seem to mind the ruling class’s disdain for the rest of us. That we are so generous with our oblivious aristocrats is, frankly, baffling.

Some on the left would like to think that perhaps America’s patience with, not to mention indulgence of our royalty is finally wearing thin. After all, the middle class has been duped into fighting their wars, for which the poor have paid with their lives. And now along comes Katrina, exposing our enfant terrible-in-chief as a garden variety spoiled brat, and his playmates as mean, petty, and petulant. Appalled in their own right that anyone would suggest any of them should be held accountable for anything. No matter how hard you spin it, this bunch of apples is bad. It is as if we have abandoned our government to a gang of vicious children, as if Washington had become the evil island of William Golding’s 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies. And no, by the way, they don’t feel your pain.

But we get the government we deserve, somehow. Though most of our politicians on the national stage do not resemble or represent us, they may represent something we’re striving for: a society in which each is entitled to what he can grab, and accountable to no one. But then why were so many on the right appalled by the looting in New Orleans? After all, this has been going on in the capital for years now. But there’s a logic to it, I guess: the poor are accountable to the rich as servants to their masters, while the rich are accountable to no one. Isn’t this the natural order of things?

But it is not merely about class. We Americans have grown increasingly complacent about race. There is a curious acceptance of our de facto American Apartheid. There are inescapable correlations between race and poverty in the United States. No one is to blame and no one is accountable, of course. It’s the fault of the market, and we reassure ourselves that eventually the rising tide will lift all boats. Which is OK so long as you’ve got a boat. But the truth is, in rising waters, as we have seen, those without one drown. Still, we are dazzled by the gorgeous yachts and speedboats of our ruling class. Those of us in dinghies and rafts are just riding the tide, caught between our admiration for the rich and our pity for the ones treading water.

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