Just under a year ago, a co-worker whose son has participated in Air Force rescue and recovery missions, asked my opinion of what was happening in New Orleans. At that moment, the levees had already broken, people were trapped and drowning. It was all quite unbelievable that our federal government, which until that time had a rather er reassuring manner of swooping in at times of crisis to minimize loss of life, did absolutely nothing. Didn’t seem to notice disaster was happening. Didn’t care. Did nothing.
My co-worker, also unable to believe what she was seeing on the news, was hoping for assurance from me – like I’m the Voice of Reason. It was the summer of 2005, when people were using the words treason and dissent interchangeably, and I don’t like to discuss politics in the office. This time, I broke my little rule. I told her what we were seeing on television was not a massive rescue being slowly organized, and it would take time. No, we were seeing the administration’s true colors: avarice, corruption, cowardice and a mind-blowing lack of human empathy.
The co-worker, whose life experience is greater than mine, spoke rather sharply about how rescues must be coordinated and they take time to mount and launch. I understood her problem. She believed in the willingness of soldiers, sailors, doctors and pilots to show up, face down the situation and save the endangered. If they weren’t there, they must’ve been on their way. There must be a reason for the delay.
This charming faith in the heroic people who do these dangerous and dirty missions for us is precisely the thing blinding people who shout “Support the Troops!” like those words mean anything, and I say they’re meaningless because nobody says boo when Bush cuts funding for the Veterans Administration. My co-worker turned on her heel and walked away, but as events unfolded calamitously, as attitudes were revealed in actions and inaction, she didn’t raise the subject again.
It has often been the cold comfort of those out of political fashion that no one four-year or eight-year presidency can so change the bureaucracy that it cannot be changed back, and even so, the middle class would remain largely unaffected. My co-worker was struggling with the idea that life in America had truly changed, and that she could not trust the government to act as it always had. I felt bad for her, knowing the people were willing but our leaders were not.