About six months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, I made a trip to the lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. I saw a woman who must have been 80 if she were a day, working in the hot sun, trying to clean up the refuse from the storm that still littered the yard in her modest home. Next door a 30-year-old man sat on the front steps of his equally devastated dwelling, watching the old woman work.
“What are you doing, friend?” I asked the man.
“Waiting on some help,” he replied.
“Who do you reckon is going to help you?” I asked.
“George Bush needs to come down here and help me,” he replied.
I ain’t making this up, y’all. An able-bodied man was sitting on the front steps of his home waiting for George W. Bush to come and put Humpty Dumpty back together, while a few blocks away, at City Hall, Mayor Ray Nagin was concentrating on making New Orleans a “chocolate city.”
Well, time has passed and the people of the Crescent City don’t have George W. Bush to kick around anymore.
I was in New Orleans again last week. More relevantly, I was in Gulf Shores, Ala., and Biloxi, Miss., and a few other areas that rely on tourism and fishing and the oil industry for many of the good, hard-working people who reside there to make a living.
But just off shore, on the once azure blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, lies a specter that is, in its own way, just as devastating to the livelihood of many Gulf State residents as Katrina was to others. There is a giant and ever-growing oil spill turning the blue waters black and gray, sending tar balls onto beaches and threatening to take over coastal marshes like the Blob, from the old ’50s movie.
These folks aren’t waiting for anyone to come and help them. They are willing and, in many ways, able, to help themselves. These are proud, industrious, independent people and they are eager to lay boom and build barricades and skim oil.
They are not alone, either. At least 13 nations have volunteered to send vessels to help skim the oil off the top of the Gulf waters. They have been standing by since Day 1. Day 1 was almost two months ago, by the way. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has an emergency plan in place and has been ready to put it in place since Day 1, also.
But the federal government won’t allow foreign nations to come to our aid. The White House cites the Jones Act as one of the primary reasons for turning down these gracious offers of help. The Jones Act was passed in 1920 to help protect the American Merchant Marine from foreign competition. The Jones Act can also — by law — be suspended during time of crisis.
If this isn’t a crisis I don’t know what is.
People are staying away from Florida, Alabama and Mississippi beaches in droves — during summer vacation time. Hello!
Fishermen and shrimpers have been grounded. And all offshore drilling has been suspended for six months, potentially putting 120,000 people out of work — an act akin to grounding all aircraft for six months after a crash. It is a mess down there. And the government won’t allow the states to use their own emergency plans without “environmental studies” to learn the potential harmful effects on the environment.
Are you kidding me?
And what has the man in charge done?
Well, he has made a few trips to the Gulf Coast and made sure he was photographed on the beaches. He has beat his chest, talked tough and bad-mouthed the evil BP executives and set up a $20 billion BP-funded slush fund that a member of his administration will disperse. And he has passed the buck to everyone from Timbuktu to Kalamazoo — and from Crawford, Texas, to Buckingham Palace. And he has made one of the most bizarre Oval Office speeches since the malaise of Jimmy Carter in 1979.
But what has he done?
He hasn’t done a damn thing.
The problem with a democratic form of government — even a representative democracy like our republic is supposed to be — is that the people get exactly what they deserve because they get exactly what they vote into office.
In 2008, the United States voted for an inexperienced empty suit who was full of cheap words, empty promises and bold ideas about how to spend other people’s money. We, the people, got exactly what we elected, and the people of the Gulf Coast — and the rest of the nation — are finding out that elections do, indeed, have consequences.
At least when Rome was burning, Nero did fiddle.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.