Michael “Heckuva-job” Brownie has been making headlines the past couple days with his “expert” assessment that President Obama may have jumped the gun with his pre-emptive warnings about Hurricane Sandy. We’ll never know how many lives were saved because officials across the Eastern seaboard sounded the alarm early and got people out of harm’s way. But I’m gonna guess that a Romney campaign that has gone to great lengths to keep any memory of the Bush administration in a dim corridor far from voters’ consciousness is not pleased with Brown’s uninvited intrusion into the political discourse in the final days of a close election.
Michael Brown is best known as the hapless FEMA director that George W. Bush made famous when he commended the guy for doing a “heckuva job” during Katrina as the Lower Ninth Ward sank on national television. His re-emergence during Sandy would be laughable, except for one thing: it reminds us that the outrage we experience in moments of tragedy are too often nowhere to be found in the cold calculations that lead to election messaging.
In 2005, for a moment in time, a stunned nation peered at itself in the mirror after Hurricane Katrina. We began to have an honest conversation about the intersection of poverty, racism and callousness that allowed an entire population to languish in misery while a president flew over in his plane and claimed to understand their plight. While the legacy of Katrina played a role in diminishing confidence in Bush’s leadership, the 2008 election was litigated more over the plight of Iraqis and not over how to prevent another Katrina.
Similarly, in 2011, Troy Davis was put to death for a murder that it seems dubious at best that he committed. Amidst nationwide vigils and protests about the racial inequity of the US criminal justice system, the Supreme Court denied the last appeal from Davis and his lawyers to stay the execution. He was killed by lethal injection on Wednesday, September 21. “I Am Troy Davis” became the anguished rallying cry of a public paralyzed by injustice.
And for months early this year, the murder of Trayvon Martin catalyzed a national conversation about American’s obscene gun laws and the tolerance we have for the epidemic of murder of young black men. Hoodies, skittles and iced tea became the macabre symbols for a life that was lost way too early. While vigilantes like George Zimmerman remain free, gun control has meritted only the slightest mention in the presidential race, despite the best efforts of groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns.