At the moment, I'm not sure I want the Michaels, Chertoff and Brown, to lose their jobs.
Over the last couple of weeks it's sometimes seemed to me as though the Secretary of Homeland Security and the head of FEMA are the only two people in the Bush Administration with working hearts.
They've looked and sounded as if they've actually been concerned about what's happened since Katrina hit.
That might just be a trick of perspective. They look and sound concerned in comparison with their boss, George "Slow Hand" Bush.
Probably what I'm seeing in them is nothing more than self-love. They are desperately concerned---concerned that Katrina has made them look like fools and scoundrels and it's going to ruin their reputations, if not their careers.
Concern is over-rated anyway.
Any sloppy, teary-eyed milquetoast with a soft heart and a softer head can be concerned. The trick is to act on your concern.
And concern---caring---feeling deeply about things, about causes and children starving in Africa and your pain, about friends, family, the victims of natural disasters and lost pets and vanishing rainforests and stockholders and the bottom line and the New York Mets, is all too often merely projection.
We care deeply about all those things because we care deeply about ourselves and we see ourselves, darkly, in the looking glass of the world around us. We double our conceit. We love the mirror and then we love ourselves for loving the mirror.
It's how so many bad people don't know themselves to be bad.
Richard the Third steps to the front of the stage to let the audience in on his secret: "Since I cannot prove a lover, I am determined to prove a villain."
But most villains in real life, allowed to soliloquize, would preen like Malvolio in his yellow stockings.
"I am so good. I am so nice! I love him! I love her! I try so hard! I work so hard! I sacrifice so much, I give so much, I do so much, feel so much, care so much! How can you think I'm not a good person?"
I'm sure a lot of Liberal bloggers practice this intensive brand of narcissism known as caring. (Right Wing bloggers seem to make a virtue of not caring.) There are among us many a Mrs Jellyby, writing our letters in support of the natives of Borrioboola-Gha while our families and friends suffer the effects of our benign neglect and our morally sanctioned abuse as we force them to serve our self-love by sacrificing their needs to our pet causes and hobbies.
There's nobody specific I'd accuse of being Mrs Jellyby, even if I could, which I can't, because how would I know who truly cares and who's merely in love with the image of themselves as caring---the two qualities look alike on the outside.
For the record, I am a no good bum with a sliver of ice at the center of my heart.
The list of little villainies and lesser evils perpetrated by people who care is as long as an inventory of FEMA's failures; to write it out would use up as many closely-typed pages as Condi Rice's credit card bill.
This is why the Catholic Church has always taught that the only thing that accompanies us to heaven is Good Works.
People are measured by the good that they actually do, not by the nice feelings they indulge while they sort of, kind of try, or pretend to try, or mean to try, sometime, when they have the time.
I'm no fan of the Church, as you've probably figured out if you've read my past posts on the subject, but this is one thing Catholicism has over Evangelical Protestantism which teaches that the key to heaven is faith in Jesus Christ---which is to say, you are judged by how much you care.
It's a religion designed as if to give narcissists a place to pray.
I'm not about to suggest that George Bush's moral and practical failures are due to his being an Evangelical.
Jimmy Carter is an Evangelical Christian.
But this emphasis on Faith, on what you feel, is a temptation to easy self-approval and self-congratulation, and it sure looks as though Bush's internalizing of his religion has resulted in the daily practice of self-love and self-idealization.
"Look at me, I'm a good man! I care! I feel bad for Trent Lott's losing his multi-million dollar house! I feel compassion for poor Brownie, trying so hard and taking so much heat. I believe in Freedom, I believe in Democracy, I believe in God, Jesus Christ, and wiping out terrorism! I love my wife and I'm loyal to my friends, I hug bereaved moms and cheer on the first responders and I visit the troops! I work so hard!"
Has there been another President whose speeches and off the cuff remarks were so full of self-congratulation?
"Watch this drive!"
So I guess it's not a surprise that his only real response to the diaster so far has been to work harder at appearing to care or that as Tim Naftali wrote in Slate that instead of directing
...the U.S. military to immediately assist the thousands of people without food or water in the city center, Bush assured the nation that expected gasoline shortages would be temporary and that his father and former President Clinton were ready to pass the tin can to ensure private-sector support for rebuilding New Orleans.
That is, he assured people he cares and that other people care.
And this substitution of feeling for action trickles down through his entire administration. Naftali reports that Michael Chertoff, whom I really do want to see fired, along with Michael Brown, now, seemed to want to be congratulated for caring more than he wanted to actually do anything to prove it and "Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who is commanding the military component of Washington's response, pleaded for patience from the people of New Orleans, promising that the U.S. Army was 'building the capability' to help them," which sounds as if Honore expected people stranded on their rooftops and going hungry and thirsty in the Superdome and facing the loss of all they have to be grateful for the Army's good intentions. Message: We care!
There are plenty who believe that George Bush doesn't really care, that he fakes feeling, that he knows the words but not the meaning, that he's a hollow fraud, that he is, as Marshall Wittman suggests, emotionally retarded.
But who knows? Anyway, it doesn't matter how full his heart is because he doesn't act on his feelings, if he has them, and because really he is irrelevent to his own Administration.
The White House is run by three men who if you sliced them open and removed their hearts wouldn't notice or even mind. Cheney and Rove and Rumsfeld are proud of how callous and unfeeling they are. None of them smiles and smiles and plays the villain to deceive anybody, they smile and smile because they enjoy playing the villain. They don't need to step to the front of the stage and deliver a soliloquoy to let us know what they're really thinking.
I'd say that given the hypocrisy of the people who care such open heartlessness is refreshing, even attractive, but life is not a play, and I don't live in Biloxi or New Orleans or Iraq.
(Thanks to Susie Madrak for the link to Bull Moose.)
Donate to The Red Cross here.
Donate to AmeriCares here.
See Blue Girl's page for information on how to donate Health Kits for the dispossessed.