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The new Antoinettes 

Raising the bar on indifference to suffering

It's well-known that people often reveal their character most clearly during moments of crisis. The cynic dissolves into tears. The sentimental type's heart suddenly grows cold. The coward turns into a hero.

And compassionate conservatives turn into Marie "Let Them Eat Cake" Antoinette.

That became obvious again last week in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Similar to the way he behaved on Sept. 11, 2001, President Antoinette ignored the disaster until its third day -- and at least five days after it was predicted. This time, instead of reading My Pet Goat, he went to San Diego to make another speech full of lies about our involvement in Iraq.

Then, while Americans died in the worst natural disaster since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, President Antoinette strummed a guitar presented to him by a country singer. I apologize to those of you who wrote angrily about my recent comparison of Bush to Nero. You were right. Nero fiddled. Bush strummed.

We've become accustomed to President Antoinette's indifference to suffering. But some of his Christian brethren outdid him last week. The head of Repent America, an evangelical group supported by the Southern Baptist Convention and the Traditional Values Coalition, blamed gay people for the hurricane.

It seems that God sent Katrina to force the city to cancel the gay Southern Decadence festival held in New Orleans every Labor Day weekend. "Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city," Michael Marcavage said. "New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. May it never be the same.

"Let us pray for those ravaged by this disaster," he continued. "However, we must not forget that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city for so long."

Remaining mysteriously silent on this account was Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition and a longtime manipulator of hurricanes. Robertson once famously warned the city of Orlando that it just might be hit by a hurricane or earthquake -- wink, wink -- if it didn't cancel the annual Gay Days event at Disney World. Perhaps he decided to let Marcavage work the hurricane theme this go-round, since he had exhausted himself a week earlier on the Christian murder beat. He called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Then he denied he'd done so, and then apologized for doing so.

But my favorite new Antoinettes are the so-called mainstream Republicans like Jonah Goldberg, editor of National Review Online and an omnipresent TV pundit. He is the son of Lucianne Goldberg, who helped Linda Tripp convince Monica Lewinski to make a blowjob a national crisis. She also founded the lunatic outpost, which she later left because it was too extreme even for her. Goldberg has ridden his mama's coattails, unstained by semen, to fame. He openly opposes the notion of "compassionate conservatism" -- hooray for his honesty -- and makes that quite clear in a blog post that clarifies his earlier objection to someone's claim that the poor would suffer most in Katrina's aftermath. It bears repeating:

"Several readers complain that it's in fact true that the hurricane will disproportionately affect poor people. I don't really dispute that in the sense most mean it. Yes, the poor will have special hardships. Obviously so," Goldberg condescends, then quickly retracts: "But what I objected to, and still object to, is the reflexive playing of the class card. Is it really true that some middle-class retirees who heeded the advice of the government to leave town, only to watch their homes be looted after a lifetime of hard work for a better life, are suffering less than a poor person who lost his rented apartment? What's the metric for measuring this sort of suffering? What about the small businessman who worked his entire life to build something he's proud of? What about the families who lost loved ones, but had the poor taste to make more money than the poverty line?

"Whatever happened to the idea that unity in the face of a calamity is an important value? We're all in it together, I guess, except for the poor who are extra-special," he concludes.

The sheer stupidity of that statement, which could only be made by a person with no association with the poor (like George W. Bush), is galling. It doesn't seem to cross his mind that the poor were left in New Orleans -- to die, to go hungry, to get ill -- because they couldn't afford to leave. Apparently, Jonah Goldberg believes one who has lost money suffers as much as one who has lost a wife. And he really believes that: Goldberg is another "chicken hawk" accustomed to promoting suffering by others. He has explained that he has not enlisted to serve in Iraq because he's 35, has a baby daughter and -- no kidding -- "my family couldn't afford the lost income." So, of course, poorer people should risk their lives instead.

The mind reels. It really does.

Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology.

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