In a May 25, 2001 interview, Grover Norquist told National Public Radio's
Mara Liasson, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce
it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
Norquist got his wish. Democracy - and at least several thousand people,
most of them Democrats, black, and poor - drowned last week in the basin of
New Orleans. Our nation failed in its response, because for most of
the past 25 years conservatives who don't believe in governance have run our
As incompetent as George W. Bush has been in his response to the disaster
in New Orleans, he wasn't the one who began the process that inevitably led
to that disaster spiraling out of control.
That would be Ronald Reagan.
It was Reagan who began the deliberate and intentional destruction
of the United States of America when he famously cracked (and then incessantly
repeated): "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are,
'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"
Reagan, like George W. Bush after him, failed to understand that when
people come together into community, and then into nationhood, that they organize
themselves to protect themselves from predators, both human and corporate, both
domestic and foreign. This form of organization is called government.
But the Reagan/Bush ideologues don't "believe" in government,
in anything other than a military and police capacity. Government should punish,
they agree, but it should never nurture, protect, or defend individuals. Nurturing
and protecting, they suggest, is the more appropriate role of religious institutions,
private charities, families, and - perhaps most important - corporations.
Let the corporations handle your old-age pension. Let the corporations
decide how much protection we and our environment need from their toxics. Let
the corporations decide what we're paid. Let the corporations decide what doctor
we can see, when, and for what purpose.
This is the exact opposite of the vision for which the Founders of this nation
fought and died. When Thomas Jefferson changed John Locke's "Life, liberty,
and private property" to "Live, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,"
it was the first time in the history of the world that a newly founded nation
had written the word "happiness" into its founding document. The phrase
"promote the general welfare" - another revolutionary concept - first
appeared in the preamble to our Constitution in 1787.
Talk show cons and TV talking head cons and political cons - both Republican
and DLC Democratic - repeat the mantra of "smaller government," and
Americans nod their heads in agreement, not realizing the hidden agenda at work.
Reagan was the first American president to actually preach that his own job
was a bad thing. He once said, "Politics is supposed to be the second oldest
profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to
the first." One can only assume he was speaking of himself and his fellow
Republicans, and certainly the current Congress's devotion to the interests
of inherited wealth and large corporations displays how badly his philosophy
has corrupted a role so noble it drew idealists like Jefferson, Lincoln, and
the two Roosevelts.
But cons can't imagine anybody wanting to devote their lives to the service
of their nation. The highest calling in their minds is to make profit.
As Reagan said: "The best minds are not in government. If any were, business
would hire them away."
This mind-set - that the only purpose for service in government is to set up
the interests of business - may account for why not a single military-eligible
member of the Bush or Cheney families has enlisted in their parents' "Noble
Cause," whereas all four sons of Franklin Roosevelt joined and each was
decorated - on merit - for bravery in the deadly conflict of World War II.
There are, after all, no reasons in the conservative worldview for government
service other than self-enrichment. As Ronald Reagan said: "Politics is
not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace
yourself you can always write a book."
What they don't say is that the reason they want to remove government
in its protective capacity is because they can then make an enormous amount
of money, and have a lot of control over people's lives, when they privatize
former governmental functions. They want a power vacuum, so corporations
and the rich can step in. And with no limits on the inheritability of riches
after the "death tax" is ended, wealth vast enough to take over the
government can emerge.
Given this conservative world-view, it shouldn't surprise us that in 2001 George
W. Bush appointed his 2000 presidential campaign manager (Joseph Albaugh) as
head of FEMA, or that two years later Albaugh would have left FEMA to start
a consulting firm to marry corporations with Iraq "reconstruction"
federal dollars, and put in charge of FEMA his assistant (and old college roommate),
an equally unqualified former failed executive with the International Arabian
It also shouldn't surprise us that although Dick Cheney has stayed
on vacation in Wyoming through all of this, his company, Halliburton, has already
obtained a multi-million-dollar contract to profit from Hurricane Katrina's
It's not that these conservatives are incompetent or stupid. When their
interests are at stake, they can be very efficient. Consider when Hurricane
Charley hit Jeb Bush's state - a year earlier than Katrina - on the second weekend
of August, 2004, just months before the elections. The White House website notes:
As of noon Monday [the day after the hurricane left], in response to
Hurricane Frances, FEMA and other Federal response agencies have taken the following
-- About one hundred trucks of water and 280 trucks of ice are present
or will arrive in the Jacksonville staging area today. 900,000 Meals-Ready-to-Eat
are on site in Jacksonville, ready to be distributed.
-- Over 7,000 cases of food (e.g., vegetables, fruits, cheese, ham,
and turkey) are scheduled to arrive in Winter Haven today. Disaster Medical
Assistance Teams (DMAT) are on the ground and setting up comfort stations. FEMA
community relations personnel will coordinate with DMATs to assist victims.
-- Urban Search and Rescue Teams are completing reconnaissance missions in coordination
with state officials.
-- FEMA is coordinating with the Department of Energy and the state
to ensure that necessary fuel supplies can be distributed throughout the state,
with a special focus on hospitals and other emergency facilities that are running
-- The Army Corps of Engineers will soon begin its efforts to provide
tarps to tens of thousands of owners of homes and buildings that have seen damage
to their roofs.
-- The National Guard has called up 4,100 troops in Florida, as well
as thousands in other nearby states to assist in the distribution of supplies
and in preparation for any flooding.
-- The Departments of Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs,
and Defense together have organized 300 medical personnel to be on standby.
Medical personnel will begin deployment to Florida tomorrow.
-- FEMA is coordinating public information messages with Georgia, Tennessee,
Alabama, and North Carolina so that evacuees from Florida can be informed when
it is safe to return. -- In addition to federal personnel already in place to
respond to Hurricane Charley, 1,000 additional community relations personnel
are being deployed to Atlanta for training and further assignment in Florida.