I collect old magazines, or rather, I am kind of obsessed with publishing and pick up vintage copies of magazines because I see them as cultural artifacts. I have one that my grandmother sent me from the 1930s that is a good indicator of the actual attitudes among many people who lived through the Depression. In it, there is a page of jokes, many of them attempts at making light of crushing poverty. The hed of the section is called "Smiling Through." There are oddly unfunny one-liners about making do in the Dust Bowl regions, about bums in the cities, about people who still cling to class distinctions despite the fact that everyone is struggling.
Liz and I were discussing the very real possibility that Hurricane Katrina could be our Dust Bowl. Not only did this storm knock out oil operations in the gulf, it has seriously damaged New Orleans, America's largest port. We often forget that goods come to us by ship, and a large percentage comes through the gulf region.
Other hurricanes have done huge amounts of property damage, but this one has crippled several industries. Not to mention the fact that the stagnant water is undoubtedly going to become a tremendous health crisis.
What is particularly troubling is that the administration, and preceding GOP administrations, has been very effectively dismantling many of the protections that were put in place during the last depression to keep us from suffering from another one. We are very vulnerable right now, thanks to decades of Republicans chipping away at the New Deal, program by program.
So while Bush, with his irritating "I'm the best man giving a humorous and slightly bawdy toast at my best friend's wedding" tone, snickered his way through another hollow speech, I couldn't help but think about the possibility that there will be no bouncing back from this. When he says that New Orleans will come back, bigger and badder than ever, I doubt him. He is not responsible for this disaster, but he is at least partially to blame for a delayed reaction, for the paltry numbers of National Guard troops, for failing to take global climate change seriously. Like 9/11, he may not be directly responsible for the event itself, but he and his friends are going to be responsible for making things exponentially worse. It's what they do best.
In the meantime, I wonder how we will "Smile Through" these next ten years or so, while struggling to piece our economy back together, patching up the scattershot holes caused by bad Republican economic policy, environmental negligence and Bush Doctrine miscalculations.