Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Douglas Brinkley -- noted historian and the author, most recently, of a highly acclaimed book on Katrina -- is one of the eighteen people New York magazine asked to speculate on the question "What if 9/11 never happened?" His contribution:


Without 9/11, it seems certain that the Bush administration would have been shaped by the domestic crisis of Hurricane Katrina. Rather than standing on the rubble at ground zero with his bullhorn, Bush would best be known for standing on some waterlogged roof in the Ninth Ward and setting up a Gulf Coast White House, some federal nerve center to rebuild the whole region, fix the crumbling Lego levees once and for all, and bring attention to infrastructure nationwide -- schools, roads, power grids. Already there would have been the big Northeast blackout of 2003 and now we'd be really devoting ourselves to infrastructure in the face of the blackouts in Queens, in St. Louis, in California. New Orleans itself would be a monumental engineering feat, a Marshall Plan for the Gulf South. A lot more attention would be paid to wetlands, the way we lose two football fields of land a day. Bush would've gotten on the bullhorn in the Ninth Ward and had a moment like Kennedy's moon speech, when he rallied America behind the civic mission of restoring our heritage and rebuilding our country -- instead of watching it fall apart the way we're doing now.

Good Lord, did Hunter Thompson slip something in Brinkley's drink a few years ago when the two of them were working together -- something that still hasn't worn off?

Nahhh -- I shouldn't blame HST. Brinkley here, in fact, comes off as the anti-Hunter Thompson, a Pollyanna who actually believes that people in politics (and their pals in the business world) are good and thoughtful, and would have risen selflessly to confront infrastructure problems before they reached crisis proportions, with not a scoundrel in the bunch -- if only it hadn't been for that pesky 9/11. (And wetlands! Bush as a friend of wetlands! I get a headache just trying to wrap my mind around that.) What's more, in Brinkley's dream, Karl Rove would have turned Capraesque, relying on unity rather than division to get his boss reelected, rallying the nation after the '03 blackout rather than subjecting the '04 Democratic candidate to the GOP's usual back-alley mugging. (Brinkley does know that in order for Bush to have his Ninth Ward moment of triumph in a 9/11-free world, he would have had to be reelected as a peacetime president ... doesn't he?)

In fact, Bush went for a second bullhorn moment. He did promise a massive rebuilding effort. And we know his administration's policy is that deficits don't matter. So what kept this from being his finest hour, except his own fecklessness and his utter lack of interest in anything other than his needs and the needs of the already well remunerated?


By the way, there's not all that much of value in New York's roundup. I'm grateful to Ron Suskind for suggesting that Bush might have launched an attack on Saddam anyway, and to Dahlia Lithwick for asking whether, in the absence of 9/11, the Bushies might have fought the culture war even harder and sought to curtail civil liberties just as much.

Then there's Andrew Sullivan, who gets far more column inches than anyone else and uses them to demonstrate that if he ever decides to give up on this punditry thing, he could make a great second career out of writing overheated near-future dystopic war porn a la Robert Ferrigno.

...October 23, 2006, 12:52 p.m.
I don't see any other way to describe what seems to be unfolding but war. The president has issued an emergency freeze on all domestic flights. They've targeted airplanes as well? I guess the [cyanide] gas could work just as well in a 737. Up here in Ptown, people are walking about in a daze -- and the skies are eerily silent, except for a couple of military planes that just flew ominously overhead. Fox News keeps running the London footage. My brother called to say he's okay. A work friend of his is missing. The sight of those piles of limp bodies being pulled out of the bowels of Victoria Station is something I won't easily forget. It's the Blitz in reverse. When Hitler struck, Londoners went into the tubes to escape the carnage. Al Qaeda has turned that refuge into a mass tomb....

I think his publisher would probably recommend not calling the novel Up Here in Ptown.

No comments: