Thursday, January 14, 2010

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Okay, people. You tell me what’s wrong with this picture.

First, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hits the island of Haiti on Tuesday, effectively destroying the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Brick and concrete buildings lacking rebar reinforcement tumble to the ground, trapping thousands of people in the ensuing rubble. The presidential palace collapses along with the parliament building. Haitian President René Préval escapes fairly unscathed, but many of Haiti’s legislators, along with hundreds of government workers, are buried in the wreckage.

Everywhere you look, the story is the same. Schools filled with children lay in ruins throughout the city. Five-story hotels are reduced to leaning piles of stone while stores are flattened like pancakes. Most tragically of all, hospitals are destroyed or so badly damaged that they are unsafe for use.

By nightfall, the city is in chaos. There is no electricity, but people continue working madly to rescue survivors trapped in fallen buildings. Doctors from Doctors Without Borders set up triage and treatment areas on land free of rubble. The Red Cross works with them, but quickly runs out of medicine and supplies to treat the wounded. People huddle in the streets, afraid to return to damaged homes. Many of them settle down to sleep wherever they can find room under the stars.

And then morning comes, and with it a promise of aid from the United Nations. International rescue and relief teams mobilize as Venezuela, Mexico, France and Italy commit rescue workers, medical supplies, drinking water, and canned foods to Haiti. Here at home, President Obama pledges the full help of the United States, saying, "Haitians are our neighbors in the Americas and at home. We have to be there for them in their hour of need."

So far, so good. Several nations are already responding to the crisis, and more help is being sought by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. In the U.S., concerned citizens are digging deep into their pockets and, like Americans always do in times of trouble, they are donating money to relief organizations like the Red Cross, CARE, and Doctors Without Borders.

But now the other shoe drops. The spreaders of hate, the nay-sayers and complainers, and the religious bigots of the world thrust their ugly mugs in front of microphones to spew out their messages of divisive intolerance.

And this is where the picture goes wrong.

Taking a lead role in the “quick lip” action is college dropout, admitted drug addict, and convicted felon Rush Limbaugh. Born with a glib tongue, Limbaugh is a self-made millionaire who earns his money by using the radio waves to make fun of anyone whose political opinions differ from his. He is adept at creating conflict, as when, in an attempt to undermine the 2008 Democratic primary campaigns, he asked listeners to cross political lines and vote for whichever Democrat was behind in the race. He called this effort to cause disunity in the Democratic Party "Operation Chaos". He subsequently said, "The dream end of [Operation Chaos] is that this keeps up to the convention and that we have a recreation of Chicago 1968 with burning cars, protests, fire, and literal riots and all of that, that is the objective here."

As you can tell from the above, Limbaugh is not interested in promoting love and brotherhood. On the contrary, he thrives on the adulation of listeners who approve of his racial intolerance and socially disruptive discourse. Today this self-proclaimed voice of American conservatism pandered to his followers by chiding President Obama for his rapid response to the crisis in Haiti. Limbaugh indignantly claimed it took three days for the President to make a formal statement to the nation concerning Umar Abdulmutallab's failed attempt to blow up an airplane, but less than one day for Obama to pledge help to Haiti. He called Obama’s actions self-serving and said the administration will "use this to burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community, in the ... the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country. It's made to order for them."

Apparently Mr. Limbaugh can’t accept the fact that it took two days for government officials – the FBI, CIA, etc. – to amass all the information needed for the President to form a rational and informed statement concerning Abdulmutallab’s ability to avoid the government’s “no fly” list. Limbaugh once said of Obama, “I hope he fails.” I guess he would have rather watched the President fail by making a quick and uninformed statement re Abdulmutallab.

As for Obama’s rapid response to the earthquake, I would have to guess that Mr. Limbaugh is unaware that there are 45,000 Americans currently living and working in Haiti. These Americans expect their government to respond quickly when they are in desperate need of help, and so it will. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made that quite clear today when she told reporters in Honolulu that American citizens in Haiti are "our principal responsibility." She said that the U.S. Coast Guard would use helicopters to evacuate Americans to ships outside Port-au-Prince. According to a later briefing in Washington, the evacuees so far included eight wounded members of the U.S. Embassy staff – four of whom were in serious condition – and approximately 80 family members and non-essential personnel from the Embassy. I expect many more Americans were evacuated after that briefing.

Given Mr. Limbaugh’s history of verbal indulgence in racial bigotry, it’s not difficult to understand why he would oppose swift support for the people of Haiti. They are, after all, black and poor. It's not likely they'll be lured by the promises of American conservatism, especially the type of conservatism espoused by Limbaugh.

It’s more difficult to understand the rantings of Pat Robertson, a man who claims to have dedicated his life to spreading the good news of God’s love. Today there was little mention of God’s love by the wealthy televangelist. Instead, Robertson told viewers of “The 700 Club” that he attributed the destruction left by the earthquake to past sins of the Haitian people. "They were under the heel of the French,” Robertson said. “And they got together and swore a pact with the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.' " He went on to say that decades of poverty, natural disasters, and political unrest in Haiti can all be traced back to this pact with the devil.

It would be kind to say that senility has reared its ugly head in the case of Pat Robertson. What else could account for him coming up with such an unprovable and ridiculous story? We know God didn’t whisper it in his ear, and I doubt he’s been speaking to any Haitians lately.

Unlike with Limbaugh (who is certainly in command of his mental faculties), one can despise what Robertson says, yet forgive the man for saying it if senility is the cause of his foolishness. But one wonders if everyone around the man is equally senile since they allow him to spout such nonsense on national television. If not senile, then they are either ignorant fools or greedy underlings eager to share the limelight – and the money – earned by their boss. They, then, are far worse than Robertson. They’re in Limbaugh’s league, consciously agreeable to doing or saying anything that will give them power through wealth.

Limbaugh and Robertson and others like them are what’s wrong with this entire picture. What’s right with it are all the caring citizens of the world who are offering help, directly or indirectly, to the people of Haiti.

Bigots and power seekers may command the air waves of America, but in the end, the voices of caring people will drown out the memory of their bitter words.