Exploiting A Tragedy

January 4, 2005

When you look at the Left’s rush to judgment against the Bush administration for not reacting precisely according to its expectations (demands) concerning the tsunami disaster, you just have to wonder what kind of psychological forces motivate this group.

It’s instructive that the very people who constantly call for a spirit of collegiality and bipartisanship have somehow managed to politicize the most apolitical of all events.

Before the aftershocks from the ocean-based South Asian earthquake could be felt, liberals in the American media, the United Nations and elsewhere were condemning President Bush and the United States. Why? Because he didn’t speak soon enough, volubly enough and with appropriate histrionics to express his compassion on behalf of the United States toward the victims of the tragedy.

United Nations official Jan Egeland, referring to Western nations, fumed, “It is beyond me why we are so stingy.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune lectured, “As the Bush administration is wont to say, actions speak louder than words, and America’s actions in recent days have painted the United States as a rich, self-absorbed and uncaring nation that had to be shamed into anything approaching appropriate concern about this catastrophe.”

Not to be outdone, The New York Times followed with an editorial titled “Are We Stingy? Yes.” The Times wasn’t about to allow the president’s dissent from Jan Egeland’s indictment to stand. (President Bush had called Egeland’s statement “misguided and ill informed.”)

The Times wrote, “We beg to differ. Mr. Egeland was right on target. We hope Secretary of State Colin Powell was privately embarrassed when, two days into a catastrophic disaster that hit 12 of the world’s poorer countries and will cost billions of dollars to meliorate, he held a press conference to say that America, the world’s richest nation, would contribute $15 million. That’s less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities.”

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Powell how President Bush could have missed this opportunity to “show compassion” by waiting several days to personally make a public announcement about the tragedy.

Stephanopoulos also seemed appalled that Powell was talking in terms of “millions” of potential aid instead of billions. Said Stephanopoulos, “I’m surprised you stopped at millions. I mean, when Hurricane Mitch hit in 1998, the U.S. gave almost a billion dollars. Isn’t this going to be billions?”

Stephanopoulos, apparently locked in an involuntary flashback to the Clintonian politics of ostentatious compassion, said, “You mention Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world. How important is it for the United States to take this opportunity, if it hasn’t been missed, to prove to the Muslim world that we are on their side?”

Along these lines, an obviously distraught Andrea Mitchell, guest hosting for “Hardball’s” Chris Matthews, told correspondent David Shuster, “This was an opportunity to communicate caring and compassion to a largely Muslim constituency.” Shuster concurred, noting that the “big argument today” on the blogosphere “has been the degree to which the United States cares, compared to other countries, when the human misery does not involve Americans.”

Also on “Hardball,” John Kerry historian Doug Brinkley said, “I think it can be an opportunity for this administration to show that they really do have a caring about the world.”

Examples of such criticism are endless, but you get the point. I think, though, that we do ourselves a disservice to dignify these criticisms with a detailed rebuttal, beyond saying that the United States has been the most compassionate and generous nation, both publicly and privately, in the history of the world, and will continue to be. Further, one is entitled to question whether people are truly motivated by compassion when they feel the need to conspicuously parade their philanthropy like an obscene badge of self-congratulatory honor.

I suppose reasonable people can haggle over the comparative benevolence of helping to democratize and rebuild a nation such as Iraq and funneling relief monies to disaster victims.

But the fact that we are forced by leftist critics to dwell on such distracting issues is telling. Why should President Bush and Secretary Powell be pressured to spend their valuable time — part of which they could be spending on this very tragedy — justifying their decency and proving the altruism of this nation?

Is the Left so shackled by its own bitterness that it is compelled to dedicate more of its energy to finding fault with President Bush and the United States than in furtherance of the constructive causes for which it mouths support?

If there is any shame to be assigned in this episode, it does not belong to President Bush, Secretary Powell or the United States of America.