Barbara Bush's view from the ivory tower
Sorry to break away from Richmond again to address Katrina: The Storm After the Storm, but it's always the tiniest thing that sticks in my craw. (Of course, the big things are good and stuck too — the glacierlike response of authorities, the unthinkable behavior of heartless criminals, the dead bodies floating in the streets ...) but today, it's a little thing. It's Barbara Bush. In case you haven't read wire reports yet, here's what she told a Texas radio station after visiting with refugees at the Astrodome: "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. ... Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."
I'll give you a minute to drink it in.
OK, where to start?
Barbara Bush is not a stupid woman, so what would make her say something like that? Even believing what she said she must also know, as a former first lady, that there are political implications to every utterance. First ladies, like their husbands, have handlers and speechwriters who keep them "on message." Laura Bush has been used in the aftermath of Katrina to provide the sincere compassion her husband has been criticized for not showing. But Barbara isn't first lady anymore, so she can just let it rip. But wouldn't she know that to cast what has happened as a positive for these people borders on obscene? Or does she just not care how she sounds? No, she is not stupid, but perhaps far worse — clueless. Arrogant to the point that she makes her pronouncements from so high above her ivory tower that she cannot make out the aghast expressions of the people on the ground. On what planet could these refugees be in a better position than they were two weeks ago? Yes, many of them were underprivileged. They lived hand to mouth, they had very little. But most of them also had homes, and families, and photo albums, and that ugly pitcher handed down by a beloved aunt, and mama's recipes all written by hand in the book on the far left of the second shelf and their children's first shoes and the love poem tucked in the back of the drawer ...
Whatever their lives were like, they were their lives. And no one — not even the president's mother — has the right to proclaim that an unthinkable disaster has left them in a better position. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade! That seems to be the precious, not to mention simplistic, delusion Mrs. Bush is operating under. No doubt many of these people had bushels of lemons even before Katrina. Ending up a refugee in a football stadium in the next state might be some kind of lemonade but even that's not drinkable. It's tainted with e-coli and human waste and floating bodies.
Mrs. Bush is completely out of touch, if not out of her mind. Shame on her.