Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Login Edit Feedback Can Obama Construct a Different Presidential Legacy?

"I have never seen devastation like this...this is heartbreaking...We're going to make sure you're not forgotten." -President Barack Obama on visiting cities destroyed by tornadoes.
"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." Former President George W. Bush congratulating his appointee to FEMA after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans.

For America, it is a shame that World War II came on the heels of near recoveries from enormous economic and environmental catastrophes. While New Deal programs had put eight million Americans, who were reeling from the Great Depression, back to work and expanded government for the Many, fresh conservation policies were being implemented due to years of drought across the Great Plains, better known as the Dust Bowl. But because of World War II and America's war mobilizing spirit, many Americans have carried the faulty notion that it ended the Great Depression. World War II also had another far reaching impact, specifically in how presidents would perceive themselves, and how Americans would view their leaders. Because of World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt would always be remembered as a tremendous wartime leader and military strategist, instead of a president who helped America recover from the Great Depression through numerous public works projects. World War II would forever overshadow his conservation policies, put in place to safeguard against another environmental disaster, and his public works projects, like the Tennessee Valley Authority and Hoover Dam, that increased the quality of life for millions. To America's demise, future presidents would always be judged by popularized wartime images and a military legacy.
Therefore, it was a great relief to see President Barack Obama immediately visit tornado-ravaged Alabama. Not only did severe storms kill more than three hundred Americans- over three hundred tornadoes struck Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Virginia-but tens of thousands of homes were either destroyed or severely damaged. Entire neighborhoods have been completely eliminated, and some are claiming this "apocalyptic-like" disaster was the worst in almost a century. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Americans are without food and water and basic services like electricity, medicines and healthcare. President Obama claimed the devastation was heartbreaking, and that those affected would never be forgotten. He also declared many areas to be national and state emergencies. As people start removing twisted heaps and downed power lines, and as they begin rebuilding collapsed buildings and homes, along with still finding survivors buried beneath rubble, others are acknowledging that there needs to be improvements in areas of meteorology, Doppler radars, warning systems, and more durable structures with basements that can withstand-or lessen the fatal impact-of an EF-5 tornado with winds of 200-300 mph. Still, some scientists are concerned that recent weather patterns and tornado-genesis research points to the impact of Global Warming.
At this juncture in time, President Obama can avoid a major mistake made by former President George W. Bush (and many other presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt.) He can also begin to reverse a destructive ideological legacy that has caused the United States to commit to needless wars and useless military engagements, ones that have wasted trillions of dollars. By the time President Bush returned from his five-week getaway at his Crawford ranch and visited the death and devastation in New Orleans (Sept. 2, 2005) as a result of Hurricane Katrina, several levees had already broken days before and had drowned over two-thousand Americans. Tens of thousands of others were either still trapped in their homes or in convention and sports centers, many without food and water and other basic necessities. Under the Bush Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) had been placed under the direction of the Department of Homeland Security. Not only had it been stripped of its authority and proper funding-due to the Sept. 11 attacks and overseas wars in Iraq and Afghanistan-but President Bush appointed a close friend to run FEMA, someone without any experience in dealing with disasters. While this new FEMA was a far cry from the one of the 1990's, one that quickly responded and dealt with national emergencies, the Bush Administration scoffed at warnings from climatologists who predicted as early as 2001 of severe weather related to an abundance of greenhouse gasses.

At the same time, and as early as 2001, the Bush Administration scoffed at dire warnings over heightened hurricane activity, perhaps exacerbated by global warming related to byproducts of industrialization. The Bush Administration also continued to oppose the Kyoto Protocol signed by the United States in 1997 but never ratified. In 2003, the Bush Administration again ignored Environmental Protection Agency warnings of levees needing to be rebuilt around New Orleans. Hundreds of millions of dollars were being diverted from flood control projects to fund the ongoing war in Afghanistan and a new ill-fated war in Iraq. When the levees broke on the morning of August 29, many of the city's poor residents were trapped, since they had no transportation or means to buy bus, train or plane tickets, let alone stay in hotels far away from the flooding. National Guard troops and state aid arrived late too, as much of it was being used for military conflicts. Even as flood waters continued to engulf poor neighborhoods, transportation systems and evacuation routes proved severely inadequate. Seven days later after Hurricane Katrina made landfall a second time, and four days after two of the city's flood walls collapsed, President Bush finally visited New Orleans. Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared agitated when he had to cut short his vacation and return. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spent much of her time in New York at Broadway shows and shopping.
Based on a detailed investigation of the Bush Administration's delayed response, it is now known that each member received numerous forewarnings about the category 5 hurricane and about the breach of the levees. The devastation was also played out around the clock through the mass media, as reporters were stationed throughout New Orleans and other parts that were being devastated. At meetings and briefing regarding Hurricane Katrina smashing into New Orleans and the levees being breached, it was reported that President Bush never asked any questions. Giving him the benefit of doubt, in the sense that he campaigned on a platform that promoted Compassionate Conservatism, many claim that his focus was on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially Iraq. Others believe that President Bush was extremely distracted and worried about his presidential legacy, and that he was anxious if he would be perceived as popular and decisive war president, much like Franklin D. Roosevelt. This is exactly the kind of destructive mentality and fatalistic legacy President Obama can start to unravel and undo by visiting areas ravaged by tornadoes. In other words, he can reverse decades of misguided presidential leadership, ones that were often militarily oriented at the expense of domestic emergencies. He can begin to symbolically fashion himself as a proactive presidential leader that deals with recovery and rebuilding efforts and healing after natural disasters.
For President Obama to do this, though, he (and Americans) will have to address how the Arsenal of Democracy has turned into a permanent and corrupt war economy, and how it has become addicted to selling superior weapons technologies to other nations while manufacturing ever more wars. Reshuffling leadership in the Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agencies will not be enough. He will have to completely cleanse militant and hateful ideologies that are often based on misinformation and hysteria, versus reason and factual evidence. He will have to address how U.S. foreign policy and militarism around the world has made Americans less safe, how they have provoked attacks and retaliation, and how they have indirectly killed tens of thousands of Americans. President Obama will also have to fight hard to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and divert monies away from trillion dollar weapons budgets programs, in order to fund infrastructure projects desperately in need of repair or are durable against catastrophic events. The funds and people-power are available to make sure every American has strong and adequate housing and protection from severe weather.
While implementing viable evacuation plans and bettering transportation systems for all-whatever happened to high speed rail?-he will have to make sure every city is fitted with emergency shelters and adequate medical facilities. While paying particular attention to poor areas, President Obama should increase funding to prevent future environmental disasters and to upgrade warning systems. He might even want to eliminate tax programs and tax cuts that benefit corporations and the very wealthy, while hurting the working classes and the very poor. Government policies and a lack of funding can directly or indirectly kill Americans. Presidential legacies built on militarism, and which prioritize being a great wartime president, can do the same. In thinking back to his campaign speeches before becoming president, then Senator Obama likened himself to Dr. Martin Luther King, claiming the election was a "defining moment" and if elected he would serve with the "fierce urgency of the now!" He talked of a nation fighting too many wars and of sending too many people overseas to die or become disabled. Most people in attendance spoke of healthcare, education, employment, social concerns and hopes of recovery, rebuilding and healing.
If President Obama can become a leader that addresses natural disasters and helps prevent future environmental emergencies, unlike former President Bush and others before him, he will have accomplished "change we can believe in and live with." He will also leave behind a legacy that improves and protects the quality of life for all Americans.

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