In his post-presidential memoirs, Dwight Eisenhower recounted the day in 1945 on which he saw his first Nazi extermination camp. Never accused of being a brilliant man, even by his supporters, Ike was nevertheless eerily prescient:
(When) I saw my first horror camp…I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that "the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda". Some members of the visiting party were unable to go through with the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton's headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and the British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.
Shortly thereafter, in a letter to Douglas MacArthur he elaborated:
The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they (sic) were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to "propaganda."
In case the credibility of his own testimony was called into question, the General ordered thousands of photographs and films to be made. Additionally, he forced ordinary German citizens to parade through the camps to look at the corpses. It appears that he understood with unusual clarity that the Holocaust would eventually be questioned by members of future generations who either sympathized with its goals or those who simply could not believe that such outlandish tales of cruelty could be true.
Like everything else, the gap between events and unscrupulous efforts to historically revise them has been shrunk by technology. Now that the news cycle is measured in minutes rather than days or weeks, current events become history faster than ever before. And despite the mountains of documentation of how events play out in the modern era, the efforts to re-write history are as enthusiastic enough to win the admiration of the most fervent Holocaust denier.
The latest GOP talking point (as evidenced by Mike "Baghdad is like a summer market in Indiana!" Pence, Dick Morris, and Jim "Holy balls am I retarded" Inhofe) regarding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is that it is "Obama's Katrina" or, as Inhofe eloquently states like the troglodyte he is, this is far worse than the Federal response to Katrina. I find this fascinating for several reasons.
First, in the present tense this disaster illustrates quite a challenge for the Republicans in Washington. They are torn between two contradictory political needs: the need to blame everything that happens on Obama and the need to fellate the oil industry enthusiastically at every opportunity. Their attacks are more confusing than effective. Is this the greatest ecological disaster since the dawn of time or is much ado about nothing, an effort by Greenpeace and other imaginary 1960s caricatures to slander their hated oil villains? So it's fun watching the Pences and Inhofes of the world pinball back and forth between those objectives.
Second, and more to the point of today's post, the conservative effort to exonerate Bush on Katrina is only going to get louder in the coming years. I've argued, and the data clearly underscore this point, that Katrina, not Iraq, ended Bush. His approval rating plummeted below 40 for the first time immediately after Katrina – and it remained in the 30s (and even 20s) for the next three-plus years. So there is clearly a need to re-imagine Katrina if Bush is to be redeemed. Why wait 30 or 40 years to start accusing the media and The Liberals of making up all of the destruction, ineptitude, and human suffering? Let's get that ball rolling now.
The great unanswered question with Obama and the oil spill is what exactly these armchair quarterbacks would like to see the president to do. Any and all technological remedies available are being tried or have been tried. The problem here is that nobody knows how to stop the goddamn thing. Not being a deep-sea geologist, I hardly see what the President has to contribute to solving the problem. In the long-term the Federal government will have a role to play, compensating people whose livelihoods have been ruined, cleaning up the oil slicks, and so on. But just as George Bush could not stop the hurricane, Obama can't stop an oil spill. The difference, however, is that Bush could have helped matters with an immediate and concerted response. There simply isn't a lot for Obama to do at the moment. What he did do that was useful – arm twisting BP into ponying up to pay for the mess – brought howls of condemnation from the right. It was a "shakedown" or "extortion."
In reality, the only way to make this "Obama's Katrina" is to radically redefine Katrina. Most people don't realize that Bush's last press conference as President – this is 2009, four full years after the storm – was about his response to Katrina. He persuaded no one, of course, as outgoing Presidents with 20% approval ratings tend to be unpersuasive. So clearly the job of revising his response to the hurricane will have to be done by others. The public has the attention span of a fruit fly, and it won't be long before they'll be receptive to tales about how Bush leaped into action after a storm that really wasn't that bad anyway (despite, of course, the fact that we can watch all of the disaster unfold on YouTube and in well-researched narratives). The only question is who will write the first book exonerating Bush of the biggest disaster of his presidency. Maybe Ann Coulter will attempt a redux of her embarrassing effort to re-imagine Joe McCarthy. One thing is for certain, though. The oil spill can't be made any worse than it already is, so to make it the "worst" leaves only one course of action: making Katrina, and by extension Bush, a figment of the hysterical liberal media's fertile imagination and twisted agenda.