Evan Thomas: How Bush Blew It
September 11, 2005

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Michael Kinsley Edition)

Michael Kinsley writes:

Hindsight: A User's Guide : As a good American, you no doubt have been worried sick for years about the levees around New Orleans. Or you've been worried at least since you read that official report back in August 2001 -- the one that ranked a biblical flood of the Big Easy as one of our top three potential national emergencies. No? You didn't read that report back in 2001? You just read about it in the newspapers this past week? Well, how about that prescient New Orleans Times-Picayune series back in 2002 that laid out the whole likely catastrophe? Everybody read that one. Or at least it sure seems that way now. I was not aware that the Times-Picayune had such a large readership in places like Washington, D.C., and California. And surely you have been badgering public officials at every level of government to spend whatever it takes to reinforce those levees -- and to raise your taxes if necessary to pay for it.

No? You never gave five seconds of thought to the risk of flood in New Orleans until it became impossible to think about anything else? Me neither. Nor have I given much thought to the risk of a big earthquake along the West Coast -- the only one of the top three catastrophes that hasn't happened yet -- even though I live and work in the earthquake zone...

Let me say that Michael Kinsley has just become the only person I know who lives and works in the west-coast earthquake zone who claims that he has not "given much thought to the risk of a big earthquake along the west coast."

The rest of us all have our out-of-the-area emergency contact phone numbers--people far away to call and coordinate information. We have our water, our bandages, and our splints stored in the basement. We have our bookcases bolted to the wall. We try to remember to keep our cars relatively gassed up. And we have all thought that if something really bad happens to LA, we in San Francisco will have to mobilize for the first three days--and vice versa. God knows we can't expect anything constructive from Bush's White House, or Chertoff's Homeland Security, or Brown's FEMA.

And let me say that Michael Kinsley has also become the only American I know who claims that he "never gave five seconds of thought to the risk of flood in New Orleans." The rest of us who have been to New Orleans have walked along the bank of the Mississippi River and along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, and thought about the potential consequences of the fact that water wants to flows downhill.

We don't regularly read the New Orleans Times-Picayune here in California. But every hurricane season we do worry about our fellow citizens on the Gulf and South Atlantic Coasts: we give much more than five seconds' worth of thought to the dangers faced by the inhabitants of Savannah, Charleston, Miami, Tampa, Mobile, New Orleans, and Galveston. We hope that our government is taking the proper steps toward preparing to deal with hurricans. Some of us even vote for Democrats, in part because we think that Democratic legislators and presidents are more likely to do so. It's strange--we not only think about disasters that might happen far away, we worry about what might happen to other Americans we do not know. I don't know what you call it: "citizenship"?