Monday, September 19, 2005

The indictment is not only of a president, but of a people

Even before the floodwaters had begun to recede, it was clear who would be the scapegoat: President Bush. His domestic policy, his foreign policy, his environmental policy, his homeland security policy, his racial policy, his lack of racial policy, his failure to empathize with the victims, his efforts to empathize with the victims, his folksiness, his aloofness, his bureaucratic inertia, his irrepressible can-do optimism.

Oh yes, and his vacation, which was confidently said to be the longest any president had ever taken. Since most past presidents spent as little time as possible in the White House, this must have been difficult to calculate. As far as I have been able to ascertain several European heads of state, the Queen of England included, are still away from their desks.

Thus speaks Daniel Johnson — thanks to Robert Tracinski, who adds that "it is important to recognize that the real target of the Katrina hysteria is nothing so small as the Bush administration. The real target is America itself, its whole system of government, and its distinctive values. The leftists are trying to blame free markets for allegedly causing people to be poor. They are trying to smear America as a racist country that is indifferent to the lives of blacks. They are trying to blame America for being an economic powerhouse that refuses to shut down its industries because of the latest environmentalist hysteria. They are promoting a vision of America as a weak and corrupt nation. The best evidence of this is the reaction of the overseas press. Some TIA Daily readers have sent me truly awful examples--see [here], if you can stomach it--and today's New York Sun offers a good, concise analysis from a correspondent in London, who captures the European left's orgy of envy and "schadenfreude,"s a perverse German word that means "joy in suffering"--their joy in our suffering."

Read it in Johnson's words:

The real target was not Mr. Bush, however. The indictment is not only of a president, but of a people. It is the American way of life that is, in the eyes of many Europeans, the cause of all the troubles of the world. And it is because Mr. Bush is so irredeemably American that every anti-American stereotype is held against him. America, for the armchair moralizers across the Atlantic, means lawlessness, injustice, ignorance, selfishness, and megalomania, all personified by the president.

And because, like so many of his countrymen, Mr. Bush is a Christian, the secularized sophisticates of the Old World are relishing the irony of the fact that the most powerful man on earth has been humbled by this act of a God whose name they never normally deign to mention.

This gloating over what is, after all, one of the worst natural disasters of recent years has a rather different tone from the warm glow of philanthropic self-congratulation that accompanied the East Asian tsunami just eight months ago. The West was careful not to offend the sensibilities of the local regimes, even where (as in Indonesia or Sri Lanka) there had been evidence of persecution on ethnic or religious lines in the regions most affected. And the Americans were, for once, the heroes of the hour. The American Navy and Air Force provided swift and effective assistance when and where it was most needed. However grudgingly, it had to be admitted, even in Europe, that there was something to be said for the global capacity and ubiquitous presence of the "hyperpower."

In the case of New Orleans, the omnipotence of the hyperpower turned out to have been overhyped. America revealed a vulnerability in its own backyard that took its European critics quite by surprise. The Leviathan was after all mortal. A few were awestruck by the sublime revelation of the power of nature, and expressed their solidarity with the suffering millions of the Deep South. But for intellectuals in the grip of Europe's collective inferiority complex, this was an opportunity too good to be missed. They did not reflect that the lives of Americans are as precarious as anybody else's: They added insult to injury, and in a way that was not just in the worst possible taste, but also despicable.

How would Europe have coped with such a deluge? To judge from the past: certainly no better, and perhaps very much worse. Not much has changed since Pliny the Younger observed the destruction of Pompeii and realized that the Roman Empire was powerless compared to Mount Vesuvius. Most of Europe's catastrophes, though, have not been natural, but man-made: war and genocide, terror, and famine. In every crisis of the last century, the American cavalry have come to Europe's rescue: in two world wars, in the Cold War and the Balkans, now again in the confrontation with Islam. Marshall Aid saved millions of Europeans from starving or freezing to death in the ruins of their continent.

Europeans are not so oblivious of their debt that they do not resent American generosity. As the great Viennese journalist Karl Kraus remarked, "Ingratitude is often disproportionate to the benefaction received." It is only through this prism that Europe's smug reaction to the plight of New Orleans has a hideously perverted logic. This latest manifestation of anti-Americanism is a symptom of a deep malaise which, if it is not treated soon, will do greater damage to Europe itself than to America.

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