A Question of Ugly Americans

From Scout:

I remember a woman in Mississippi who was clearly upset by the lack of attention paid to their plight asking me, “What is the rest of the country saying about us?’ Actually what I remember more clearly was my silence as I debated telling the truth…Not much, Sorry…or coming up with some other less painful answer.

Just why isn’t Katrina getting more attention? It’s a question I’ve asked myself time and again. And I do try to answer it. Is it that Americans are not informed, have a short attention span, it’s complicated, its overwhelming, maybe its racism, they’re too busy, they just don’t care, too selfish? I’ve yet to make sense of it so I’ve not written about it. But I decided it was time to begin tackling it more directly. In the process of doing so I’ve found some ugly questions. I hope you’ll read on and give some thought to mine or yours.

First I went to the Polling Report to see if there were any answers as to what is going on with Americans. Here’s a quick shot of polling results from the few recent polls (Feb ‘06).

–Are Americans satisfied with what is occurring regarding Katrina? NO… Only 31% are pleased or satisfied with rebuilding efforts.

–Approve of Bush’s handling of response? NO….Polls have a range of 57% to 64% disapproval on Katrina response

— As for future handling? 72% believe that Bush has no plan yet.

— Are Americans aware it is bad? Yes… In one poll 87% stated that the Gulf Coast is still badly damaged.

–Is it a priority to Americans? Apparently…respondents placed Katrina recovery over Iraq as a priority by 64-31% in one poll.

So perhaps Americans are aware and disapprove. It gets more telling though when you get down to dollars. In a CBS poll 66% of respondents think federal agencies should be doing more. But in an AP poll 66% believe the feds are spending too much or the right amount. It’s different polls but this points to an incredible disconnect….. The federal government should do more but we don’t want to pay for it? Is this the ‘When Pigs Fly Recovery Plan‘? Or are there other explanations.

(more after the cut…click Read More)

From Scout:

When asked if they are confident that federal money is being spent wisely the responses were…..29% only somewhat confident, 37% not too confident and 29% not at all confident. So 95% of Americans are skeptical to varying degrees that the federal government is using their money well. Additionally only 26% of respondents to one poll believe that Louisiana and local governments are doing all that could be expected with 60% saying they could be doing more. But in the same poll 67% believed the federal government still ought to be responsible at least for housing. They apparently do not believe in just shifting the burden to the states and locals.

Finally there is this question…

“There are many people in this country who choose to live in areas and homes that are known to be especially susceptible to destruction by natural disasters such as landslides, earthquakes, hurricanes, and flooding. In general, when these disasters strike these area, do you think the government should give money to local residents to help them recover, or do you think the residents of these areas should live there solely at their own risk?”

A plurality of 49% said they live there at their own risk. 47% said help them recover.

There are no questions on race in the recent polls and it may well be an issue. Polling on the immediate response to Katrina demonstrated a stark difference of opinion based on race according to Pew Research. But Pew also reviewed the issue further here and had some revealing analysis that I believe puts in doubt that race is significant in affecting the present response to Katrina.

So is it that in the abstract Americans say we should do more to help but in action and deed balk at the Katrina price tag because they think the government is wasting our money and it’s those people’s own fault for living their anyway? And before you say no…. it’s the media’s fault, let’s confront that bugaboo with this from the Pew News Interest Index.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita led the list of this year’s (2005) top news interest stories, claiming the very close attention of nearly three-in-four (73%) in October—a considerably higher rating than was received by any news story in the past three years.

People really can’t say they didn’t know. Perhaps they lack details but they know the destruction is bad. I think that premise needs to be accepted and move on to analyzing America‘s response or lack of it. And that may well reveal an ugly side of Americans.

Yes people do not trust government to deal effectively with this which may be paramount. And of course recent news of waste by government and contractors would prove them right for their distrust. But if that alone explains it then where is the call for change? Are people that divorced from the responsibility of participatory government that the suffering of millions of their own and waste of their money will not move them to action? Perhaps so. The majority of Americans disapprove of the war in Iraq but it grinds on with few objecting in any meaningful way.

What allows us such extravagance of inaction? What is it in our character that we manipulate to rationalize and justify it to ourselves? I ask….Are we now Ugly Americans in Our Own Country? So frightened, isolated and defensive that we act arrogant, boorish, demeaning, ostentatious and unthoughtful even to our own…… as they suffer? After this review I am drawn to these questions and I fear my answers but Katrina begs the question for Questions! So I pose them. I am not certain they are the right questions but more and more I believe they are. If you have others, comment away, as I think it is time we look at this not only for the sake of the people of the Gulf Coast but those upon whom the next disasters will be perpetrated. Let’s start questioning….Ourselves.

UPDATE: There have been some thoughtful comments and I thank you. They bring me back to the leading role of the failings of the Bush regime in responding to Katrina and our powerlessness in its wake. If only we could cut that out of the equation and regain control. Also the enormity of the devastation is much worse than I suspect most Americans realize. So I think I’ve been too hard on the majority of Americans here.