Monday night the 10th, as I write this, Hurricane Florence has a track that could well hit us in Annapolis, MD, a glancing blow of winds and rain on Friday or over the weekend. But this is far from my first hurricane. Growing up in South Florida I went through several. The best one was my namesake storm in 1979. It made me so much cash, as a Radio Shack counter salesman, that it funded most of my first-semester drinking adventures a couple of months later at the University of Florida.
However, even that was not the most hurricane fun. That would be Katrina. Yes, I know. That sounds like a callous statement given the loss of life and property. But hear me out. I got to Louisiana soon after that tragedy struck and was one of thousands of Red Cross volunteers from across the nation who shipped out to lend a hand. The storm hit on Monday, August 29, 2005. I got there the following Sunday and was attached to the Government Liaison Office (GLO) at Red Cross HQ at Cortana in Baton Rouge. I was in Baton Rouge for DRO (a Red Cross acronym for disaster relief operation) 865 for six weeks. I was first assigned to the GLO then to the shelter at Southern University, where the SU people were really wonderful to us.
From that perch I got a good view of the politics. media coverage of the aftermath of the storm, and the relief effort. The press reports were sensationalistic and generally unreliable. But it is true that FEMA was initially useless and made promises it didn’t keep. Even the Red Cross, who performed admirably altogether, had about a two-week learning curve to get up to snuff. The politics between the local and state players was narcissistic to the point of absurdity. They turned the already fine art of bureaucratic obfuscation into a graceful, yet apparent, ballet of sustained mendacity. Nevertheless, we staff grunts plodded on.
When the president visited we got a taste of the agitprop narrative. Which, according to the media, was that an incompetent cold president somehow consigned almost 2000 people to death and caused this country shame in front of the entire world. The truth was much more prosaic. Bush, a good and decent man, when during a Cortana walkthrough realized he was getting in the way of Red Cross ops, was mortified and left immediately. His presidential and media entourage were in tow. Not a cold fish. During his entire presidency the man obviously cared about his fellow man. Perhaps on occasion, too much. The dull reality was FEMA and the Red Cross were hit blindside, even though they had wargamed it not too far in the past, because the scope of the natural disaster simply overwhelmed them. They just weren’t prepared for it. Nobody was.
That situation improved soon and I got to see the improvement in action after being transferred to the shelter at SU. I was seconded because GLO had gotten boring after the turf fights died down; many of us at Cortana were looking for more action and the shelters, the trenches of the operation, needed people. Also, some of us reveled in the social situation, much to the consternation of Red Cross brass, and decided to bury ourselves far away from HQ. Now comes the fun part.
Put thousands of male and female volunteers far away from home in a dramatic tension-filled environment, people who knew they likely would never see each other again if they so chose. Combine that with the romantic nobility of the effort, living in close quarters, and the ready and usually free (the locals treated us very well) availability of alcohol and what do you think is going to happen? Yup, what happened at DRO 865 mostly stayed at DRO 865. On the camaraderie side, the friends I made there are still some of my closest pals. A roman a’clef on this subject, politics, and Katrina in general, written by my favorite author, is easily available from Amazon Books.
Then Hurricane Rita hit not long after Katrina and the Red Cross, come to bail out New Orleans, was looking at being bailed out itself.
At that point the political profit to the Left and the Dems was to paint Bush as personally culpable for the initial dog’s breakfast that took place at Katrina. The message worked, with the always helpful press amplifying the charge, and the GOP lost control of both the House and the Senate in the 2006 midterms. This partially set the stage for the election of the first anti-American American president in 2008.
The Dems are now hoping for a repeat performance.
Thus the President better have FEMA at battle stations immediately. Guaranteed the media are already planning to trash Trump on the federal performance over Hurricane Florence, no matter how well it is done. The stories have probably already been written and need but a few details and a send button to publish.
By overpromising and underperforming, the president better not give them any more ammo, more than the things they are going to make up anyway, to use against him and the GOP prior to the midterms. If he does or doesn’t, soon you’ll start to see the hit pieces on how Trump will bungle (bungled) Florence worse than Bush dealt with Katrina. Mark my words.
Dems will be waiting with their usual understated grace, like vultures over carrion, hoping the damage is so great, the death toll so high, the pictures so evocative, that facts will go out the window and the hysterical response, again trumpeted by the media, will be a shrieked “J’Accuse” at the White House. Like Buford at Gettysburg, you can clearly see it coming over that hill yonder.
Inoculation? Things got much better and orderly in New Orleans when the 82nd Airborne showed up. Profit by that example and make this hurricane response a military mission staged out of (and there are a plethora of choices) a nearby military base. Camp Lejeune, Fort Bragg, Fort Gordon, etc. come to mind. FEMA and Red Cross can still play vital roles. But let those less obsessed with process, and keener on results, lead the way.
And tighten up the rules on who gets what in the affected areas. FEMA and Red Cross, out of an abundance of trust and CYA, gave out thousands of dollars a piece to people who had not been touched by the storm, but who knew the right words to intone. If funds are given, hold them until after residents have left a shelter. We noticed, shall we say, impulse buying from those whose homes had been recently destroyed. Saw one guy buy a large plasma television with relief funds. Only one problem. He had no place to put it, as his sole residence was a cot in the middle of a basketball court.
So buckle in folks. Get ready for breathless, wet, sanctimonious network reporters telling us how much danger they are in. Prepare yourself for the revealed fact that if a single drop of hurricane rain falls, The New York Times will say it’s because Trump controls the weather and he joys in massive destruction. Understand that you’ll be seeing, as they’re already in production, 30-second DNC spots hitting Bush again on Katrina and making the same case about Trump. In those spots, expect a lot of kids clutching soaked and gnarled teddy bears, those kids in filthy wet clothes, and tearful parents asking, “Where is Trump?”
If he’s smart, as I write this, he’s getting ahead of the story by coordinating a federal hurricane response with the governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. We here in Maryland wouldn’t mind it either. He’s also signed the military orders deploying the proper assets to deal with this upcoming meteorological challenge. He’s probably got the FEMA chiefs in his office, putting the Fear of the Lord into them concerning their duties, hoping one or several will urinate on themselves out of pure unadulterated fear, thus making it a good meeting.
That’s where, pray God, if he has any political smarts at all, he is. Then maybe, just maybe, an excellent operation per Florence can be leveraged at the polls to make the perfect storm the Dems need in the House come in as a summer drizzle.
Is it kind of sad and disgusting that a natural disaster like a hurricane can and will be politicized to the point that the human suffering and loss of treasure may seem second place to the shouted charges and countercharges?
Oh well, folks, welcome to politics today and get used to it, because there is another hurricane or two right behind Florence.