Off the Cuff

Call this Lipson’s Lament.

Glued to my TV, obsessed with the coverage of Katrina … it feels like we’re going to hell in a handbasket, and that is not a pleasant way to go. Or maybe it’s something in the cooler air, the shorter days, because as we head into October, I feel depressed. Of course, the way things have been going lately, it’s tough to be optimistic. Let me begin with the worst:

Our president is incompetent. The war in Iraq is a mess, with no apparent strategy for winning or getting out. Katrina reminded us of a stark reality: There is a great divide between classes in this country.

Now I feel worse. But I’ve still got a load to get off my chest:

Our president thinks global warming is a myth. Our president wants to promote abstinence rather than supply condoms to Africa. Our president rejects the great potential of stem-cell research. And now the world has watched the sorry response to Katrina.

I still feel lousy.

Jesse Jackson! Everything that comes down the pike is a racist event to Jesse Jackson, including our non-response to the hangers-on in New Orleans. And while we’re at it, looting is okay — not just for food or clothing, but for TVs and stuff. Insurance reimburses Kmart anyway, so what’s the big deal?

I still don’t feel so hot. But it helps to vent.

Deep breath, think positive thoughts: George Bush cannot be reelected. (Well, you have to start somewhere.) The economy, surprisingly, is doing okay. Maybe Bush will be pressed to end the war sooner rather than later.

I’m starting to like Hillary Clinton. Her idea to separate FEMA from Homeland Security and make it a cabinet-level agency is excellent. We could certainly use a female President — I’ve just about given up on men for the job. But …

Three more years of Bush. He still has time to do more damage — to the environment, say. Just think of the new energy bill, or the push to build highways in national forests for logging trucks. So what’s wrong with a little snowmobiling in Yellowstone, anyway?

I’ve concluded that the only people in Washington who know what the hell they’re doing are the lobbyists. Why wasn’t there enough money allocated to reinforce the levees? It just might have something to do with pork-laden bills bringing payoff to congressmen’s home districts, which is still the name of the game.

It won’t be long before we’re all speaking English as a second language in this country. Our president already does.

Is there any other nation where you would try to rescue stranded people by helicopter and they’d shoot at you?

Here’s an example of what the rest of the world, even America’s friends, is thinking. A Filipino government official, speaking to the International Herald Tribune: “It’s so heartbreaking to see how helpless America has become. You’re not strong anymore. You can’t even save your own countrymen, and there you are, out there trying to control the world.”

So as we head into fall, maybe it’s time to step back, to take stock, to consider the direction we’re going. In the end, the disaster of Katrina — how poorly we responded, and how badly off our poorest people truly are — could be a wakeup call. Has America become, in the name of fighting terrorism, the bully of the world? We understand bullies: They are, at heart, empty. They refuse to take a look at themselves, or to try to fix what’s wrong. For this president, it has now become apparent that it’s easier to hang on to a war gone bad, to keep swinging blindly into a future that only he seems to believe will be made “safe for democracy.” Maybe in the end, Katrina — as deadly and horrible as it’s been — has exposed exactly what that means.