In a May 25, 2001 interview, Grover Norquist told National
Public Radio's Mara Liasson, "I don't want to abolish
government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can
drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
Norquist got his wish. Democracy - and at least several
thousand people, most of them Democrats, black, and poor -
drowned last week in the basin of New Orleans. Our nation failed
in its response, because for most of the past 25 years
conservatives who don't believe in governance have run our
As incompetent as George W. Bush has been in his response to
the disaster in New Orleans, he wasn't the one who began the
process that inevitably led to that disaster spiraling out of
That would be Ronald Reagan.
It was Reagan who began the deliberate and intentional
destruction of the United States of America when he famously
cracked (and then incessantly repeated): "The nine most
terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the
government and I'm here to help.'"
Reagan, like George W. Bush after him, failed to understand
that when people come together into community, and then into
nationhood, that they organize themselves to protect themselves
from predators, both human and corporate, both domestic and
foreign. This form of organization is called government.
But the Reagan/Bush ideologues don't "believe" in government,
in anything other than a military and police capacity.
Government should punish, they agree, but it should never
nurture, protect, or defend individuals. Nurturing and
protecting, they suggest, is the more appropriate role of
religious institutions, private charities, families, and -
perhaps most important - corporations.
Let the corporations handle your old-age pension. Let the
corporations decide how much protection we and our environment
need from their toxics. Let the corporations decide what we're
paid. Let the corporations decide what doctor we can see, when,
and for what purpose.
This is the exact opposite of the vision for which the
Founders of this nation fought and died. When Thomas Jefferson
changed John Locke's "Life, liberty, and private property" to
"Live, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," it was the first
time in the history of the world that a newly founded nation had
written the word "happiness" into its founding document. The
phrase "promote the general welfare" - another revolutionary
concept - first appeared in the preamble to our Constitution in
Talk show cons and TV talking head cons and political cons -
both Republican and DLC Democratic - repeat the mantra of
"smaller government," and Americans nod their heads in
agreement, not realizing the hidden agenda at work.
Reagan was the first American president to actually preach
that his own job was a bad thing. He once said, "Politics is
supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to
realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first."
One can only assume he was speaking of himself and his fellow
Republicans, and certainly the current Congress's devotion to
the interests of inherited wealth and large corporations
displays how badly his philosophy has corrupted a role so noble
it drew idealists like Jefferson, Lincoln, and the two
But cons can't imagine anybody wanting to devote their lives
to the service of their nation. The highest calling in their
minds is to make profit.
As Reagan said: "The best minds are not in government. If any
were, business would hire them away."
This mind-set - that the only purpose for service in
government is to set up the interests of business - may account
for why not a single military-eligible member of the Bush or
Cheney families has enlisted in their parents' "Noble Cause,"
whereas all four sons of Franklin Roosevelt joined and each was
decorated - on merit - for bravery in the deadly conflict of
World War II.
There are, after all, no reasons in the conservative
worldview for government service other than self-enrichment. As
Ronald Reagan said: "Politics is not a bad profession. If you
succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can
always write a book."
What they don't say is that the reason they want to remove
government in its protective capacity is because they can then
make an enormous amount of money, and have a lot of control over
people's lives, when they privatize former governmental
functions. They want a power vacuum, so corporations and the
rich can step in. And with no limits on the inheritability of
riches after the "death tax" is ended, wealth vast enough to
take over the government can emerge.
Given this conservative world-view, it shouldn't surprise us
that in 2001 George W. Bush appointed his 2000 presidential
campaign manager (Joseph Albaugh) as head of FEMA, or that two
years later Albaugh would have left FEMA to start a consulting
firm to marry corporations with Iraq "reconstruction" federal
dollars, and put in charge of FEMA his assistant (and old
college roommate), an equally unqualified former failed
executive with the International Arabian Horse Association.
It also shouldn't surprise us that although Dick Cheney has
stayed on vacation in Wyoming through all of this, his company,
Halliburton, has already obtained a multi-million-dollar
contract to profit from Hurricane Katrina's cleanup.
It's not that these conservatives are incompetent or stupid.
When their interests are at stake, they can be very efficient.
Consider when Hurricane Charley hit Jeb Bush's state - a year
earlier than Katrina - on the second weekend of August, 2004,
just months before the elections. The White House website notes:
As of noon Monday [the day after the hurricane left], in
response to Hurricane Frances, FEMA and other Federal response
agencies have taken the following actions:
-- About one hundred trucks of water and 280 trucks of ice
are present or will arrive in the Jacksonville staging area
today. 900,000 Meals-Ready-to-Eat are on site in Jacksonville,
ready to be distributed.
-- Over 7,000 cases of food (e.g., vegetables, fruits,
cheese, ham, and turkey) are scheduled to arrive in Winter Haven
today. Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT) are on the
ground and setting up comfort stations. FEMA community relations
personnel will coordinate with DMATs to assist victims. -- Urban
Search and Rescue Teams are completing reconnaissance missions
in coordination with state officials.
-- FEMA is coordinating with the Department of Energy and the
state to ensure that necessary fuel supplies can be distributed
throughout the state, with a special focus on hospitals and
other emergency facilities that are running on generators.
-- The Army Corps of Engineers will soon begin its efforts to
provide tarps to tens of thousands of owners of homes and
buildings that have seen damage to their roofs.
-- The National Guard has called up 4,100 troops in Florida,
as well as thousands in other nearby states to assist in the
distribution of supplies and in preparation for any flooding.
-- The Departments of Health and Human Services, Veterans
Affairs, and Defense together have organized 300 medical
personnel to be on standby. Medical personnel will begin
deployment to Florida tomorrow.
-- FEMA is coordinating public information messages with
Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina so that evacuees
from Florida can be informed when it is safe to return. -- In
addition to federal personnel already in place to respond to
Hurricane Charley, 1,000 additional community relations
personnel are being deployed to Atlanta for training and further
assignment in Florida.
All of this aid was vitally important to Bush family
political fortunes in the upcoming election of 2004. Disaster
relief checks were in the mail within a week. In just the first
thirteen days after Hurricane Charley hit Florida, the White
House web site notes that the Bush administration had succeeded
-- Registering approximately 136,000 assistance applicants
-- Approving over 13,500 applications for more than $59
million in housing assistance
-- Establishing 12 disaster recovery centers, which have
assisted nearly 19,000 disaster victims
-- Deploying medical teams that have seen nearly 3,000
-- Disbursing 1.2 million liters of water, 8.1 million pounds
of ice, and 2 million meals and snacks
-- Delivering over 20,000 rolls of plastic sheeting and
nearly 170 generators
-- Treating more than 2,900 individuals through FEMA Disaster
Medical Assistance Teams, supporting damaged hospitals
That, of course, was for a Republican State, with a
Republican governor, the crony brother of the President.
Republicans needed to act like they cared about governing,
because they wanted people to vote for them three months later.
But now, with no election looming and with death stalking a
Democratic State with a Democratic Governor unrelated to the
President, we once again see the Reagan philosophy held
ascendant. Bush's call to action? "Send cash to the Red Cross."
One of those "thousand points of light" non-governmental
organizations his father told us about.
As Brian Gurney, a listener from California, noted: "You
can't govern if you don't believe in government."
But you sure can make a buck, and take care of your brother,
your campaign manager, and your vice president's company.
Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com) is a
Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author, host of a
daily progressive talk radio show syndicated nationally by