Monday, September 05, 2005

The Finger of Blame vs. the Helping Hand

The impulse to blame is not a healthy habit but understandable under traumatic conditions. Growing up in a busy household with five siblings and swift retribution for unacceptable behavior, my husband developed the defensive mechanism of saying, “It’s not my fault.” Nearly five years into a happy marriage, that remains his first response whenever there is trouble, which has become a family joke. “First there is the assignment of blame,” I always tease him. Accountability is important to the institutions on which we depend – such as family, government, and the media – and is quite different than the often petulant reflex of blame. One of my husband’s favorite mottos is that you cannot do anything smart when you are angry and this week we have seen ample evidence that he is right.

Glued to the cable news coverage of the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast, I have been overcome by horror and helplessness, not merely because of the deaths that might have been prevented but the human failings on worldwide display. In the looting of non-essential items, I have seen the folly of moral relativism and a value-less upbringing. In the lack of local forethought and planning, I have seen the destructive dependence on the federal nanny state. In the politicization of a natural disaster, I have seen the crass childishness of those who crave power. In the widespread acceptance of slanderous lies as the conventional wisdom, I have seen consequences two decades in the making of gotcha games and wordplay on the left and a pitifully feeble response or silence on the right. ABC News published poll results that suggest the "blame Bush" campaign is not working, but God willing there will be plenty of time later for investigations, accusations and rebuttals. Surely those calling for the removal of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff or FEMA Director Michael Brown do not really believe this is the appropriate time to undercut their effectiveness or to train their replacements.

On a purely emotional level, I completely understand the anger many are feeling. If TV reporters could get to the scene where so many perished before our electronic eyes, why didn’t somebody save them? Government is not some lightning fast superhero but a complex, lumbering machine bound by laws that sometimes seem to work against the public good. We are a nation of laws, not of people, a fundamental fact at the foundation of our society that provides absolutely no comfort to the countless Americans stranded in the hurricane zones or to those who love them – just as it was scant consolation to the family of another American who lost her life, Terri Schiavo.

Our collective sense of helplessness that leads some to lash out can be assuaged by constructive action. There is so much help needed in Louisiana and Mississippi and I thank God so many of us are able to help. My family decided to donate equal amounts to the Salvation Army, Feed the Children and Lutheran World Relief, with a smaller donation to the Humane Society of America. These are charitable organizations we already supported in general that are providing emergency services to the Gulf Coast. If you cannot offer money, you can contribute time as a volunteer – or do both – to give hope to the hopeless. N.Z. Bear and Instapundit are posting other bloggers' recommendations to provide financial relief to Hurricane Katrina victims.

My husband was raised in severe poverty in one of the largest, most crime-ridden HUD housing projects west of the Mississippi. He knows firsthand how generations come to accept and then cling to living conditions that are familiar, albeit sub-standard and dangerous. He broke the cycle of dependence and despair by finding work outside of his city and moving away. When his housing project was demolished, he saw the opportunity for a fresh start in better circumstances for his family and former neighbors. Likewise he believes that this catastrophe may actually be an unlikely blessing for the poor made homeless this week in New Orleans where, according to Larry Elder, the crime rate was ten times the national average before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina.

At two separate shopping centers today, I met some enterprising souls soliciting funds for disaster relief. A pair of teenaged boys were holding makeshift signs and requested spare change on behalf of relatives in New Orleans. In front of my favorite market, a rental truck load of oil paintings, the type you might find at the swap meet, were being hawked by a woman who promised that 80% of her sales proceeds would be donated to an unspecified charity benefiting hurricane victims. Please give wisely so that every cent truly counts.

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