In a cynical photo-op in New Orleans, today, President Bush will use the backdrop of a local charter school to promote his "No Child Left Behind" policy.
If anything, the disaster of hurricane Katrina represents the willingness of the Bush administration not only to leave children behind -- literally, leave them behind in rising floodwaters -- but to then blame those children's predicament on their lack of education.
From Humid City:
2:00 PM THURSDAY MARCH 1
SAMUEL GREEN SCHOOL
2319 VALENCE ST. (Near Freret and Napoleon)
Mr. President, we, Katrina Survivors all, do not welcome you to our city, we rebuke you!
Sponsored by Survivors Village, United Front For Affordable Housing.
Keep in mind that one of the major frames that Bush and the authoritarian right cling to about Katrina is that the disaster was a "failure of citizenship."
As Newt Gingrich put it his 2006 speech at Johns Hopkins:The last great domestic challenge I think is the fact that we have large structured government institutions that simply don't work. You saw some of this with what happened in New Orleans and Katrina. The fact is, in Katrina, government failed. The federal government failed. The state of Louisiana failed. The city of New Orleans failed. And for 22,000 citizens in the lower 9th ward, citizenship failed. They literally did not have the education, the training, the habits of responsibility, or the capacity to get out of the way of a hurricane. And so you have got to look at that experience and say how much do you have to change each of those four layers, so that if it happened again you didn’t have the same failure?
In Gingrich's logic -- which has largely become GOP logic -- the really real cause of the humanitarian disaster in New Orleans was not the failure of the federal government to mobilize its resources on behalf of citizens in need, but the failure of citizenship to work on behalf of citizens.
It is an odd rhetorical construction, but we see where he is heading. Government should change, he is telling us, but it should change by accelerating the destruction of government programs and public schools -- moving faster to set up an authoritarian vision of a country where all government action is displaced by a vague notion of responsibility.
By touting "No Child Left Behind," today in New Orleans, Bush is really saying that the disaster in Katrina happened because his Utopian vision of free-market America was hampered -- ergo, the people of New Orleans became victims instead of what they were supposed to be prepared citizens.
All of this, of course, glosses over the continuing cry of voices on the ground in Katrina -- people who spend every waking moment of their lives rebuilding a city from scratch, only to be rewarded by a college flunky President who claims education is the key to getting ahead.
Education is important, no doubt. But it was not so much children who were left behind by the authoritarian conservative movement in this country in the decade before Katrina. What was left behind -- or rather thrown from the moving train -- was the American principle that the purpose of government is to help individuals in situations where they cannot help themselves.