Left Behind

LEFT BEHIND….Don’t miss Joan Walsh on Salon today, putting into words the frustration so many of us have struggled to articulate.

These are desperately poor people who’ve been deliberately left behind, in so many senses of the word ? left behind by society, shut up in housing projects and hideous poverty, and now truly left behind by local and federal officials who failed to come up with an evacuation plan for people too poor and isolated to leave on their own….

….Why didn’t we send a caravan of buses into the city’s poorest neighborhoods on Saturday or Sunday, when the dimensions of the disaster were already predictable?….Sure, Houston’s got electricity and running water, but tens of thousands of scared, angry people packed into an abandoned sports stadium ? we couldn’t come up with a better symbol of how little we care about the poor, how little we’ve thought about what to do with them, for them, if we tried.

We’ve heard the warning “this isn’t about politics” over and over in the last few days. The hell it isn’t. And I don’t mean kicking Bush while he’s down, just for the fun of it, although there are surely liberals eager to do that. For the rest of us, however, we’re seeing the awful real world consequences of conservatism play out on our television screens. This is why we’re liberals. We don’t yell about poverty and racial disparities for kicks. An evacuation plan that consists of telling people to get out on their own is not an evacuation plan.

A Washington Post reporter shares this account of one family’s ordeal leaving New Orleans this week that made me initially frustrated and then just profoundly sad. The father describes standing in his living room with his wife and five children as the floodwaters rose, trying to decide what to do. They have a car, but he says “it’s a five-seater” and some of the family members would have had to sit on laps. Seems like a ridiculous reason to stay, no? But then he explains that they heard the highway police would not hesitate to arrest drivers who broke the law. So he stayed at home, choosing to take his chances with nature instead of taking his chances as a black man in the Southern criminal justice system.

UPDATE: E.J. Dionne also makes the liberal case for good government.