New Orleans and Cedar Rapids: A Tale of Two Mindsets

Why didn’t we see rioting and looting in Cedar Rapids such as we saw in New Orleans?

The question has been raised in forums and blogs, but hasn’t become a topic that journalists have examined. Maybe they haven’t asked the question because they know they wouldn’t like the answers?

Last week, somebody asked the question, “Why aren’t the people of Iowa not looting and rioting like the people [sic] New Orleans did after Katrina floods?

It’s a darn good question to ask.

And – before somebody starts to say that comparing the flooding in Iowa with the flooding in New Orleans is apples and oranges, let me make it apples and apples: Let’s compare the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

The Associated Press ran this article describing the broken FEMA response in Hancock County, Mississippi:

WASHINGTON — Facing a growing body count and shortages of food, water and ice, federal emergency officials braced for riots in Mississippi in the days following Hurricane Katrina, new documents reveal.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials knew their response system had been shattered by the Aug. 29 storm and were unable to provide fast help _ even when the needs were obvious.

“This is unlike what we have seen before,” William Carwile, FEMA’s former top responder in Mississippi, said in a Sept. 1 e-mail to officials at the agency’s headquarters. He was describing difficulties in getting body bags and refrigerated trucks to Hancock County, Miss., which was badly damaged by the storm.

Carwile wrote that he personally authorized Hancock County to buy refrigeration trucks because “the coroner was going to have to start putting bodies out in the parking lot.”

The next day, in another e-mail to headquarters about substandard levels of food, water and ice being distributed in Mississippi, Carwile reported, “System appears broken.”

In a Sept. 1 exchange, FEMA regional response official Robert Fenton warned headquarters that the expected levels of water and ice being sent were far below what was needed.

“If we get the quantities in your report tomorrow we will have serious riots,” Fenton wrote.

But, guess what? We didn’t see rioting, looting, rapes or murders in Hancock County either, in spite of the predictions and in spite of the total collapse of the relief effort.

I saw little pieces such as the following:

Mississippi citizens did not riot in the streets. Did not ransack neighborhoods or shoot at rescuing personnel. We helped, and continue to help, each other. We are not looking for handouts from the government, but we surely need everyone’s help. And we thank those that have done so

And (under the heading, “Mississippi IS Different“):

What I’m about to say is a bit controversial. But I’ve given this a lot of thought. While no disaster could come close to what the Mississippi Gulf Coast has endured, there have been similar situations. I think that most people in most places would not be so generous, so thoughtful of others. My gut feeling is that if right after a disaster there was a truck distributing gallons of water, with debris everywhere and people standing in line in the hot sun with no idea of when the next truck would be coming or what they were going to do next, people there would not only take the 5 gallons being offered, but would ask for another 5.

But that didn’t happen here. I have heard this sort of story too many times in too many towns to question it. There weren’t riots in Mississippi. There wasn’t a rampage of looting. People took enough for their basic needs and looked out for their neighbors. Ken Wetzel of Project Teamwork told me how there were no distribution points in East Biloxi so he spent every morning and afternoon picking up supplies and driving them through Point Cadet in East Biloxi, bringing water and MREs to help those who had lost their cars and couldn’t get to the supplies.

It’s just one of the things that I love about Mississippi.
Posted by Ellathebella

So let’s just acknowledge the fact that New Orleans completely self-destructed, when other communities banded together and took care of their own.

It’s not about race. Yes, New Orleans was predominantly black, and Iowa is predominantly white. But there have been black people who have heroically banded together in the aftermath of disasters, and there have been white people who have fallen apart (for example, remember the all the horror in Bosnia?).

It’s not even about political affiliation, although I think that how a community votes is a far better indicator as to how they will handle a crisis like a hurricane or a flood than the color of their skins.

Mississippi has generally been pretty reliably Republican. Iowa is a “battleground” state, in that it narrowly voted for Gore in 2000, and narrowly voted for Bush in 2004. But the Democrats in Iowa are as different from the Democrats in New Orleans as the night is different from the day.

I’ve got a big load of relatives living in Iowa: in Iowa City, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Lone Tree. Some are Democrats and some are Republicans, but they are overwhelmingly conservative, with conservative religious values to match.

I remember all the anger and bitterness and BLAME and the sheer spirit of self-centered entitlement that characterized New Orleans from the very first moments that the TV cameras arrived and started interviewing people. It was all Bush’s fault; it was all the government’s fault; it was all racist white people’s fault. It didn’t matter that New Orleans was firmly in Democratic hands, from the governor to the mayor. It didn’t matter that federal money for levies had been squandered on silly projects going back years. It didn’t bother that the local leadership on up didn’t have a plan or a clue. It didn’t matter that most of the residents were so completely unprepared that they didn’t even have an inflatable raft in a city that was UNDER sea level and surrounded by water.

By way of contrast, I’ve seen a total lack of blame coming from these other towns that suffered quite terribly.

We’ve got a tale of two mindsets: independent vs. dependent; moral vs. shameless, selfless vs. selfish, grateful vs. greedy.

There is a real contrast between the thousands of decent, hard-working, and self-sufficient Iowans from all over the state who got in their trucks and drove for hours to help communities in crisis such as Des Moines and Cedar Rapids fill tens of thousands of sandbags and the residents of New Orleans who had to be terrified of their neighbors. To the extent that things went well, it was because people banded together and took care of one another in an amazing way; to the extent that the society didn’t completely collapse when the water won, it was because people didn’t prey on one another, but stood together in solidarity in the face of crisis.

Liberalism teaches that people are helpless, and that they must constantly look to their government to take care of them. So nobody prepares, nobody plans, nobody takes individual responsibility or individual initiative. And nobody helps anybody. That’s supposed to be the government’s job. When a crisis hits liberal cities such as New York (remember the power outage that led to rioting and looting?) and Los Angeles (remember the Rodney King verdicts, that led to rioting, looting, mayhem, and people burning down their own communities?), there is a moral disaster of epic proportions characterized by anger, entitlement, and blame.

The Iowa caucus (which went to Barack Obama) is proof enough that Iowans aren’t racist. But there is no way that Iowans would ever have tolerated New Orleans’ Mayor Ray Nagin, or his culture of dependence and blame.

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2 Responses to “New Orleans and Cedar Rapids: A Tale of Two Mindsets”

  1. doctorj Says:

    I am a native New Orleanian and my mother lives a block from the beach at ground zero (Pass Christian) and all I have to say is you are ignorant of reality. I hope disaster never destroys your world. Just be prepared because there is no such thing as government or honest insurance companies in LA or MS or anywhere else in the US. You are on your own and it takes 3 (New Orleans) to 4 (Pass Christian) years to know you will survive. People ask me what I lost in Katrina. I tell them “a country”.

  2. Michael Eden Says:

    Hey, thank you for not bothering to respond to the core-essence of my article comparing the cooperation and mutual assistance in Iowa versus the complete breakdown of moral order in Louisiana. And then calling me ignorant of reality.

    Let’s get to a core fact: Cedar Rapids suffered a massive loss. Iowans have governments and insurance companies too. Do you not think they do? And I don’t doubt for a second that those entities failed in many ways. But Iowans didn’t fail the way Louisianans failed. They helped one another, rather than looting from one another.

    I can’t remember how many busses Mayor Ray Nagin allowed to just sit in the water rather than using them to help people in a PLANNED way. And what did he do? Damn Bush up one side and down the other as a “racist” while utterly ignoring his own total failure as a Mayor and as a human being. And all there was was this terrible, vicious blaming of everyone and everything else. That was a very different mindset from Cedar Rapids, indeed.

    Given the fact that everything I said in my article was based on sound reporting of the facts, and you ignored those facts in your diatribe, I can only contend it is YOU who are all to woefully ignorant of reality.

    All that said, I hope things are going well for your mother in New Orleans. Because I, too, don’t want you or your family to experience “disaster that destroys your world.” I truly hope your family has recovered from the tragedy.

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