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People Wait Desperately for a Ride Out of New Orleans.

Storm Reveals Leader Who Divides America

Bush's performance after 9/11 was 'his zenith,' and New Orleans 'his nadir.' It isn't only America that needs a unifier in the White House, the world desperately does, but unfortunately, according to this op-ed from Italy's Corriere della Sera, Katrina shows that George W. Bush 'does not look up to the task.'

By Gianni Riotta

September 2, 2005

Original Article (English)    

In his movie Escape from New York, director John Carpenter portrays Manhattan as a maximum security prison where the U.S. President risks falling into the hands of rebels. The New Orleans tragedy, which has left several thousand residents prisoner to floods and more than half a million people homeless, could trap President George W. Bush. Natural disasters morph into political crises very quickly in a global world.

An earthquake in Irpinia brought down the wrath of Italian President Sandro Pertini. Floods in Germany boosted the failing electoral fortunes of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. The tsunami triggered new dialogue with Indonesian rebels in Aceh.

President Bush After His Weekly Radio Address on Saturday; The Corpse of a Young Girl Floats in a Lousiana Street.

With each passing hour, events along the Southern Riviera on the borders of Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama are becoming a murky mirror for the troubles of America, just as the New Orleans mud now reflects the city’s empty homes. Billions of dollars in damage, and perhaps thousands of victims, says Mayor Nagin; a human and economic cost that dwarfs the San Francisco earthquake and 9/11.

The Superdome teems with people fleeing from the ghetto. Gangs of desperados from the poor flooded bayou areas steal anything they can lay their hands on, their machetes confronting the M16s of middle-class whites. Grandmothers steal bread for hungry grandchildren. Such things happened in 1992 after the anti-police riots in Los Angeles, as they did during the New York blackout [1968] that inspired the nihilist approbation of poet Nanni Balestrini.

Katrine has left behind devastation, swollen corpses floating in the mud, and a long political wake. Attacks on a pollution-prone United States now paying the price for the greenhouse effect, are as convincing as the protestations of 9/11 deniers. And it is sad that a minister, even one as threatened by imminent electoral defeat as Germany’s Juergen Trittin, should add his voice to this chorus of hyocrisy. Mr, Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto protocols does not mean that the country pollutes at will. Stuart Eizenstat, the head of the U.S. delegation at Kyoto, points out that leading American multinationals, including General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, General Electric, DuPont, and Alcoa, already comply with anti-pollution measures in order to compete in the global market.

A Nation is Shaken

Like the water spilling over the breached dykes of the French Quarter, the propaganda and the polemics will pass. But what will remain, along with the bodies and the broken buildings, is the rift that has split America since the end of the Cold War. Mr. Bush has seen his approval rating fall to its lowest-ever level at 45%. He has won two elections but, with the exception of the epic post-September 11 period, he has always been leader of half the country. His war in Iraq has two implacable Americas facing off against each other, with 53% against and 46% in favor.

Divided in politics, the United States is equally divided in its society. Census Bureau figures for 2004 confirm that the robust economic growth we Europeans so envy is slow to manifest itself as prosperity for the poorest. Just under 46 million Americans have no medical coverage, an increase of 800,000 citizens. Some 12.7% of the superpower’s residents live below the poverty line, but what is even worse is that the number has been increasing steadily every year since 2001. The country continues to produce, innovate, consume and create jobs, but it is failing to win the war President Johnson declared on poverty forty years ago.

David Brooks, a conservative who writes for the New York Times, admits with honesty that in New Orleans the victims “are predominantly black and poor. The political disturbances are still to come.” I believe those disturbances are already taking place. Mr. Bush has failed to unify the majority of Americans and Democratic leaders are incapable of rising above tendentious, Michael Moore-style rants. At a time when many around the world condemn the White House for wanting to dominate the planet through unilateralism and many Americans accuse Mr. Bush of the same thing, the truth laid bare by Katrina is rather different.

The whole world needed a unifying leader who could only have emerged from the White House, and Mr. Bush does not look up to the task. The United States desperately needs a president who can talk to everyone, but Mr, Bush prefers the rhetoric of division. September 11, 2001 was Mr, Bush’s zenith, his highest moment, and Katrine may be his nadir. The long line of refugees leaving the wonderful city of New Orleans trudging along the dry tracks of the only railway line not under water is a foretaste of the dispiriting protests to come in the world’s greatest country, a land that can no longer get it together to work together.

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