Why I Like Michael Graham
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Man bites hurricane
By Michael Graham
They were poor. They lived in homes that, to some Americans, would appear no more than shacks. They've suffered discrimination at the hands of their fellow Americans. And when the hurricane came, it seemed to veer out of its way, just to hit them.
So why didn't hundreds of Cajuns from western Louisiana appear on my TV screen this week, complaining that George W. Bush doesn't like them, demanding $200 billion of my tax dollars or blaming the bad weather on Halliburton?
Hurricane Rita may have hit western Louisiana harder than Katrina hit New Orleans, but Rita across folks made of sterner stuff then you'll find in the Ninth Ward. Here's how one Washington Post story described the scene just hours after Rita made landfall near Intracoastal City, a "city" that in many senses barely exists:
"The only people who can get here are the sturdiest of sorts, a small armada of Cajuns with pretty French names and sunburned skin and don't-mess-with-me bravado. The bayous were full of them Saturday, gliding high and quick in airboats, and so was the Vermilion River, where they were spinning steering wheels on fast Boston Whalers and kicking up wakes in flat-bottomed, aluminum boats. They did not wait for the president or FEMA or anyone else to tell them that there were people out there - out there and desperate, on rooftops...
'I got out of the sheriff's office in about 20 seconds,' said Steve Artee, as his son, Chris, made a hard, boat-tilting turn on the swollen Vermilion. 'They just took my cell phone number, and I was gone. That's because Kathleen Blanco wasn't involved.'"
Now, anyone who hates Blanco and bureaucrats can't be all bad. But I don't agree with Mr. Artee that the people of Vermilion Parish behaved more responsibly or showed more strength of character because Gov. Blanco didn't have their parish on her speed dial. I believe the people of western Louisiana behaved better because they are, in fact, better people.
The failure revealed by Hurricane Katrina was not a failure of government, at least, not any more than government always fails. The failure in New Orleans was a failure of character. Corrupt people electing corrupt politicians who gave millions in tax dollars to corrupt cronies to either mis-construct vital levees or to spend the money on entirely useless pork projects. Then, when disaster struck, these same people-living a Faustian deal of votes for tax-funded handouts- were utterly lost when those corrupt government officials headed for high ground without them.
As John Fund of the Wall Street Journal wrote: "In just the past generation, the Pelican State has had a governor, an attorney general, three successive insurance commissioners, a congressman, a federal judge, a state Senate president and a swarm of local officials convicted. Last year, three top officials at Louisiana's Office of Emergency Preparedness were indicted?. Just this summer, associates of former [New Orleans] mayor Marc Morial were indicted for alleged kickbacks involving public contracts. Last month the FBI raided the home and car of Rep. William Jefferson as part of a probe into allegations he had misused his office."
Not to mention the widespread looting by the citizens of New Orleans themselves, which included televised looting by police officers, too. The chief administrative officer for Kenner, LA, was just busted for pilfering food, drinks, chainsaws and roof tarps from New Orleans and stashing them in his suburban home.
Hey-stay classy, New Orleans!
Then came Hurricane Rita, Katrina's ugly sister, to wreak similar havoc just a few hundred miles to the west. The communities affected were, on the surface, similar as well: Abbeville or Cameron, LA were "low income" communities. The education levels were similar to the Ninth Ward, too. And you won't find many branches of the Aryan Nations meeting among the dark-skinned natives of Cajun country, whose heritage is a genetic gumbo of Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and American Indians.
But while the people of New Orleans were panicking and complaining (not to mention stealing, shooting and stabbing) days after the storm, the Cajuns of western Louisiana were out in their boats, looking for lost neighbors and rescuing strangers off rooftops.
It wasn't just because Gov. Blanco wasn't involved-it was because almost NO government is involved in these folks' daily lives. The people of rural Louisiana grow up with the assumption that their survival in this world of woe is their responsibility. Unlike far too many people in New Orleans, "low income" isn't an excuse to the working families in rural Louisiana. It's just a condition to be dealt with. They live their lives as though they own them, unlike those government-dependent "victims" who live as though life is something the state provides for them and is responsible to maintain.
Randy Gary, a fisherman from Cameron, LA, was asked about his future after his boats were destroyed and flooding poisoned the oyster beds he fished.
He didn't blame FEMA or accuse President Bush of stealing his lunch money. He wasn't spotted kicking in the door of the local Wal-Mart to snag a plasma-screen TV "for survival purposes." He has yet to join the Cajun Action Committee to investigate why so many of Rita's victims spoke French.
Instead, as the AP reports, he smiled.
"What else we gonna do?" he said, pledging to rebuild his shattered home and work. "It's my life. It's what I do."
Hurricane Rita, you've met your match.
Michael Graham is a talk show host and author of the highly acclaimed Listen to "Michael Graham, Unleashed" weekdays at Right Talk.