Broken wings

Shirt-sleeves rolled up, the American president finally landed in the hurricane-battered states of his country. George W. Bush tried to project a father-figure icon – the image of a leader who interrupts his vacation to reach out to the wretched people of this world – which is quite a common practice among political leaders of all genres. Sleeves rolled up, but wings broken, Bush’s imperial image was tarnished. No mirror is clearer or more revealing than the murky waters and the mud that a severe natural disaster leaves behind – yet one that had been forecast. If the terrorist attacks in New York four years ago were said to mark the end of innocence (if that ever existed), now the thousands of dead and the hundreds of thousands of homeless signal that the illusion of the superpower has ended. An empire that fails to meet the basic needs of its citizens cannot afford to brag or feel secure. This time, the lethal enemy did not strike from outside. It was not some evil outsider but the forces of nature and the criminal negligence of federal officials. Nature remains coldly indifferent to human feelings and constructs. It has no enemies. So the real villain must be political power, this time personified in Bush. What the Bush administration failed to do before and after the calamity is well known. The vitriolic attacks of his fellow-Americans should be enough to remove the unruffled smugness from his face. As with the war on Iraq, the Bush administration tried to bamboozle the public. Back then it was the presumed weapons of mass destruction. This time, it was the meteorologists who supposedly failed to warn people about the magnitude of the threat. If Iraq is too far on the map for the average American, New Orleans is part of everyone’s reality. People can neither seek a religious explanation for the catastrophe nor close their eyes to it.