Mark Your Calendar for Katrina Criticism
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, how badly shaken is our confidence that government can respond adequately to catastrophes? Brian Unger ponders that question in today's Unger Report.
BRIAN UNGER reporting:
Apparently this is no time to doubt our faith in government. So say the politicians. This is not the time for finger-pointing. It is not the time to assign blame. This is not a time for name-calling. This is not the time to criticize. This is not the time to fire anyone. Wait, maybe it is, but it's not the time for partisanship. Now is not the time for determining who is and who wasn't right. Now is not the time to ask, `What went wrong?' Now is not the time for an investigation. It's not the time to sit around, asking, `Why?' Thus spake our elected representatives in the aftermath of Katrina. This is simply not the time for a crisis of faith in government.
Well, what time is it? Time to get out your calendar. Perhaps we'll be notified about the nationally sanctioned day of finger-pointing. How's the 19th looking for you? The 21st for a day of criticism, and `What went wrong?' the next day. `Who's responsible?' day will be scheduled as soon as officials find a time for `Why?' day. We'll be lucky to get `How did this happen?' in before the holidays. OK, it's not a time to joke.
As much as some would like to control it, in times of profound suffering, blame and finger-pointing do not wait. I learned this as a kid in a pew at the First Methodist Church in Mason, Ohio. From the book of Matthew, the words Jesus muttered about the ninth hour of his suffering, `My God, why hast thou forsaken me?' God did not answer back, `Now is not the time.'
Amid suffering, criticism and name-calling, these are not unique to contemporary political culture. An insane King Lear who commanded floods to cover the steeples, lightning to flatten the earth eventually admitted his own neglect of those suffering in his kingdom. `Poor, naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are that bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, how shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, your looped and windowed raggedness defend you from seasons such as these?' Shakespeare neglected to have Lear's subjects reply, `King, now is not the time.'
So what time is it? Well, whether from the book of Matthew, a play by Shakespeare, or as evidenced by so many Americans, it is time for compassion. But it's also a time for accountability, because we instinctively seek it. It is as much a part of our recovery as is a hot meal. In two weeks, my grandmother, a proud Pentecostal Romanian, will turn 95, and she has lived the American dream from Ellis Island to St. Pete, Florida, where she now lives in a government assisted-living home. She has as much faith in government as she does in the Gospels, unshakeable faith, that if the great flood comes, someone will come for her. So if now's not the time for a crisis of faith in government, then what time is it? That is today's Unger Report. I'm Brian Unger.
CHADWICK: Thank you, Brian.
And we're happy to say that the Unger Report is now available for download as a podcast, and you can find it at npr.org.
CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.