The talk in our house this Labor Day weekend has been about New Orleans, naturally. Rachel has been terribly upset, unable to understand how there could be people without food and water, people dying, people dead on the ground and in wheelchairs, in a place we know, in America. We’ve talked about the failure of leadership. Tom asked, from Iowa, “Haven’t we been preparing for a major disaster in an American city ever since 9/11?”
We–and the general media–will be talking about these failures, and the human tragedy that resulted, for months and years to come. And there’s another aspect to the failures in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (which didn’t just affect New Orleans, of course, and I’m conscious that people in that whole region have been terribly affected). What does all this tell the world about the United States?
David and I are working with a global group of scholars to put together the first general reference work about global perspectives on the United States (more on that soon). One of the questions we posed when we began work on it last year was whether the United States is a model of equity and opportunity, or a class- and race-based society. We’ll be asking our contributors around the world to tell us what they, and their compatriots, think. This disaster does expose the flaws, the fractures, and the phoniness of what we, in international affairs, claim to be. The sheer inefficiency of operations was bad enough, but I was stunned and horrified by the lack of compassion I saw in officials who clearly were unable to identify with the plight of the people they were charged with helping. (The U.S. government has, by the way, launched a new initative to improve our image abroad, for the 9/11 anniversary.)
Mark Fischetti, author of “Drowning New Orleans” and our office neighbor, appeared on MSNBC’s Meet the Press earlier today.