|September 13, 2005|
Taking the "Fem" Out of FEMA
A BUZZFLASH GUEST
The events surrounding Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath have condensed nearly every pathology of the Bush administration into one disaster. In the meteorological apocalypse visited upon the Gulf Coast we have witnessed one of the consequences of the current regime’s malignant neglect of the environment, especially their denial of global warming, and refusal to protect wetlands. Also on display has been their arrogant dismissal of planning as an essential aspect of governing, along with their unwillingness to heed the warnings of scientists and engineers when such counsel challenges the White House’s faith-based approach to all problems. In addition, we have seen the most shameless and catastrophic examples of cronyism, even for an administration that has long implemented an affirmative action program for well-connected and privileged incompetents.
The only thing that Bush and his party have done effectively in this crisis, as they have in Iraq, is to find a way to exploit it financially, channeling tax dollars into no-bid contracts for GOP corporate benefactors like Halliburton to rebuild New Orleans. (And, with so many of those troublesome blue-voting poor Black residents dead or dispersed, Republicans will be free to transform the Big Easy into a theme-park simulacrum of itself, complete with animatronic jazz musicians hawking Campbell’s jambalaya, and a G-rated Mardi Gras in which prom queens replace drag queens.) Furthermore, in order to double the profiteering potential for his friends, the president has issued an executive order nullifying a law, the 1931 Davis-Bacon act, which mandates that federal contractors pay prevailing wages.
But if there were a single feature of conservative political psychology that has contributed the most to the recent horror show of death and unfathomable yet preventable suffering that has so riveted the attention of Americans, it would be the fear and hatred of the care-taking functions of government, what Republicans since Ronald Reagan have reviled as the “mommy state.” The research I conducted for my recent book, The Wimp Factor, revealed that men more than women tend to oppose the use of the government to aid or nurture those construed as dependent. Interestingly, these same men are much more likely than non-conservative males to express anxiety about being feminine. Reagan was the first prominent GOP leader to conjure up the feminizing maternal menace thereafter known as “Big Government.” In 1982 he insisted we had to “wean ourselves from the long misery of overtaxing, overspending, and the great myth that our national nanny knows best.” What followed for the next two and a half decades was an unrelenting holy war on welfare and other social programs. What remained conspicuously but unsurprisingly intact, and in fact grew exponentially, was the other AFDC program – Aid For Dependent Corporations – the subsidies, tax breaks, giveaways, bailouts, loopholes, sweetheart deals, and deregulation that reveal the hypocrisy at the heart of contemporary free market social Darwinism.
We should not find it shocking then to see this same logic applied to the mission of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an organization that epitomizes all that Republicans hate in government. In other words, it is (or was) an institution devoted to providing help for those who have been rendered weak and helpless as a result of disaster, and who, by virtue of their class position, tend to be the least able to insulate themselves from catastrophic loss. We may be appalled but not surprised to find out that Joseph Albaugh, the first Bush appointee to FEMA, before retiring to lobby for Halliburton and other corporate sociopaths, described the agency as “an oversized entitlement program.”
When the current administration, with the help of conservative Democrats, subsumed this agency under the Department of Homeland Security and the so-called war on terror, they were seeking to transform it from what they viewed as a bounteous but dependency-inducing and thus feminizing tit into a lean phallic adjunct to military imperatives. What we have beheld, in other words, are the efforts of right-wing males to take the “fem” out of FEMA. (Interestingly, these sentiments could be overridden in cases of political expediency; the agency had no problem responding to hurricanes in Florida, a state crucial for Republican votes, and one with a Bush brother at the helm.)
The same brittle sense of masculinity that for decades has guided the neo-conservative approach to governing also seems to have informed the decision to deploy National Guard troops as instruments of imperial warfare rather than keep them at home where they can provide protection against forces that actually do threaten our security.
Perhaps, in honor of the coldhearted and vengeful “daddy state” so admired by Republicans, and to foreground the years of political decisions that helped turn a natural disaster into a social atrocity, it would be fitting to rename the recent storm Hurricane George.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Stephen J. Ducat is a professor of psychology at New College of California and the author of The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity (Beacon).
Interested in contributing an article to BuzzFlash? Click here for more info.
Articles in the BuzzFlash Contributor section are posted as-is. Given the timeliness of some Contributor articles, BuzzFlash cannot verify or guarantee the accuracy of every word. We strive to correct inaccuracies when they are brought to our attention.