Dr. Teresa Whitehurst
September 1, 2005
Southerners, Devastated by Super-Hurricanes like Katrina, Doubt Bush's Ability to Confront Global Warming
As a southerner with oodles of Republican relatives in the Deep South, I've heard things this week that I never dreamed possible: Bush supporters are beginning to doubt their leader.
George W. Bush was supposed to be the ultimate southern leader, despite the fact that he was born a Yankee with a silver spoon in his mouth. With his strategically purchased "ranch" in Crawford Texas and his well-rehearsed Good Ol' Boy drawl and facial mannerisms, he put everybody south of the Mason-Dixon line at ease. (Well, almost everybody.)
Bush has managed to keep the support of poor and middle-class southerners even when he makes decisions that are bad for them personally because he speaks their language, sounding more like the preacher at the pulpit than the man in the Oval Office. He promises them protection and affluence, preaching like a presidential Billy Graham.
A Protective Father Figure…Who Can't Protect Us From Katrina
George Bush has become the rather dull but reliable father figure who doesn't raise scary questions or admit uncertainty—the protective leader who always "means well" even if he doesn't do well. He will keep his loyal followers safe. He won't rock the boat or do anything that puts them at risk. He'll send his Great Nation to war with many armies to kill all the enemies that threaten them across the globe. He tells them to pray for him, to not believe in evolution, and to never worry about that silly environment stuff: He and God are in control.
This combination of predictability and protectiveness (whether or not they are real) is what many southerners, sick and tired of feeling put down by uppity northerners, have longed for. All my life I've heard phrases like, "Damn Yankees!" and "The South shall rise again!"…well, it's finally come true: A man who acts as if he represents the struggling southerner has made them a force to be reckoned with—psychologically, anyway.
Reality's another matter. Southern Republicans, even those who despise the Iraq war and are fed up with watching blood and guts from Iraq on TV 24/7, are hesitant to express the disquieting feelings they've been having about their God-given leader lately. Some are even wondering aloud is Mr. Bush might is actually hearing God correctly when he prays before making his presidential decisions these days.
They're wondering if something's amiss between Mr. B. and the Guy Upstairs, because the protection part isn't happening. Terrorism is escalating, not decreasing, around the world. American kids are still getting killed in Iraq, bad-guy Saddam Hussein has been replaced by a bunch of Islamic right-wingers who want women to start wearing burkas and stay home where they belong, London subways are being bombed, jobs with benefits are scarce, and gas prices are through the roof.
But worst of all, a new, unexpected form of Armageddon has shown up at our front doors. The South is getting hammered, in ways even the old folks have never experienced, by a new breed of super-hurricane that scares even the meteorologists. You can hear it in their voices as they say things like, "We've never seen such strong winds…we have no idea what's happening on the ground there…something really big is coming…gusts of over 200 mph have been clocked near the eye…we really can't predict…"
"We really can't predict"?! Unpredictability is something that Americans aren't accustomed to. We've never seen our neighbors' houses incinerated with 500 pound bombs because a terrorist might be holed up there, along with all the women and children who burn up in the flames. We've never had to hope and pray that we can make it through a checkpoint without getting gunned down by scared or trigger-happy young men. We've never had to wonder where we can buy bread, clean water, or gasoline.
Things They Are A-Changing
But things are changing -- rapidly. Even my southern Bush-supporting relatives are beginning to question their leader's wisdom and his divinely inspired decisions, now that things are getting out of hand here at home. They're remembering how people like Rush Limbaugh and George Bush dismissed the dangers of global warming, assuring them that scientists' warnings regarding unpredictable weather patterns were just "junk science" that could safely be ignored.
They're feeling queasy as they listen to the new reports that suggest global warming just might be real after all -- and not just real but scary real, triggering these new super-hurricanes. Many of them dismissed the exaggerated timing of The Day After Tomorrow, and understandably so; that film did more to create global-warming cynics than anything else. They believed W when he assured him that worrying about pollution is unChristian and unAmerican, and that the Kyoto Protocol wasn't necessary.
But a new day is dawning. Summer temperatures are skyrocketing, killing more Americans every year. Even for southerners accustomed to heat and humidity, this summer has been unbearable, and people are worried. On some days, air conditioners in homes and malls never really cooled the air, making me wonder if unofficial and unannounced brown-outs (which, like black-outs, can create panic and thus affect the stock market) might be in use during high-demand periods by over-taxed electric companies. This idea came into my head after local energy reps came on TV to assure viewers (who hadn't even considered the possibility) that "there's no need to panic, because we won't need any brownouts, we have plenty of electricity".
Hurricanes like Katrina and all the others this summer and last are sparking a major rethink among southern Republicans because they're unstoppable by Bush or Rumsfeld or Homeland Security, unmoved by smart bombs or sniper fire. Superhurricanes like Katrina are coming so fast that we can barely recover from one before the next one strikes. Oh—and they're killing Bush supporters by the score, devastating our favorite cities, ruining our economies, destroying family values like safety, security, and hope.
Word on the southern street is that Bush's role as protective father figure is crumbling. No matter how grand his words of assurance to Katrina victims, nor how generous his after-the-fact promises of money and National Guard rescues, an exceedingly grim future awaits thousands of people in Louisiana and Mississippi—and that's not even counting their relatives who are, like my own, scattered all over the South.
Deaths, damage to priceless photos and beloved homes, flooded streets and tear-stained faces: Southerners are paying the price for Bush's childish belief that global warming is somebody else's problem. Because, as we've learned the hard way, that somebody is us.
* * *
Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist, author of Jesus on Parenting: 10 Essential Principles That Will Transform Your Family (2004) and coauthor of The Nonviolent Christian Parent (2004). She offers parenting workshops, holds discussion groups on Nonviolent Christianity, and writes the column, "Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldn't Have to Choose Just One" as seen on her website.