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September 08, 2005

Anne Rice: America Failed New Orleans

Not content with writing thrillers such as "Interview with a Vampire," Anne Rice has become a social critic in the aftermath of Katrina. This article was penned on September 4, and is not only an attack on the federal government, but the American population as a whole. The New York Times published it, natch.

After sharing a brief history of the city (and it has quite a history), Rice cuts to the chase. Regarding the questions many have asked as to why many didn't leave when they could, she says:

Well, here's an answer. Thousands didn't leave New Orleans because they couldn't leave. They didn't have the money. They didn't have the vehicles. They didn't have any place to go. They are the poor, black and white, who dwell in any city in great numbers; and they did what they felt they could do - they huddled together in the strongest houses they could find. There was no way to up and leave and check into the nearest Ramada Inn.

Okay. I can see that. But what of the local government? Are there any harsh words for them? After all, local government is supposed to be first in response in any disaster or emergency. We've all seen photos of the school buses sitting in flooded parking lots and heard the stories of the Super Dome that should have had emergency provisions but didn't. However, Rice has nothing but sympathy for Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin:

And where was everyone else during all this? Oh, help is coming, New Orleans was told. We are a rich country. Congress is acting. Someone will come to stop the looting and care for the refugees.

And it's true: eventually, help did come. But how many times did Gov. Kathleen Blanco have to say that the situation was desperate? How many times did Mayor Ray Nagin have to call for aid? Why did America ask a city cherished by millions and excoriated by some, but ignored by no one, to fight for its own life for so long? That's my question.

My question, Ms. Rice, is why didn't Nagin and Blanco follow emergency protocols that were clearly spelled out? Why did Blanco fail to issue a state of emergency, after being urged to do so by President Bush (who had no legal grounds to overstep her leadership in this matter)? And Congress did not act, by the way, staying home until the end of their August recess. Bush cut his vacation short (not enough by the standards of some), yet Congress gets a pass as usual.

Here's the kicker:

But to my country I want to say this: During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us "Sin City," and turned your backs.

Really? You mean all of that money pouring out of American pockets was a failure? People in Houston opening their hearts, their wallets and their homes is a failure? People like the husband of my coworker, a prison guard who is volunteering to head down to quell the violence, are failures? Where is your criticism of the media? They are the ones spreading more stories about looting and shooting than helping hands and heroes.

Mistakes were made, to be sure--on all levels, from city government on up the line. But, Ms. Rice, Americans didn't "turn our backs" on New Orleans. Nor did we turn our backs on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi or the areas of Alabama and Florida that were affected. New Orleans is a priority, but so are these other areas who aren't getting nearly as much press.

If all of this is abject failure, I want my money back.

*Cross-posted on Lifelike Pundits*

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