In It Together?

Yesterday, when Jonah Goldberg over at the Corner wrote this

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. 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 hardwork for a better life are suffering less than a poor person who lost his rented apartment?

—there wasn’t much to say except, “Eh, it’s the National Review.” But now Jack Shafer of Slate points out that anyone watching TV coverage of Hurricane Katrina is likely to labor under the same confusion:

I don’t recall any reporter exploring the class issue directly by getting a paycheck-to-paycheck victim to explain that he couldn’t risk leaving because if he lost his furniture and appliances, his pots and pans, his bedding and clothes, to Katrina or looters, he’d have no way to replace them. No insurance, no stable, large extended family that could lend him cash to get back on his feet, no middle-class job to return to after the storm.

Right—it may seem odd that these things need spelling out, but as Goldberg’s quote above shows, they really do. Add onto the list of Shafer’s concerns the fact that, as public health and disease become increasingly important issues in New Orleans and Mississippi, the poor are the least likely to have access to care. The inevitable shortage of medicine and vital drugs—something as simple as insulin, for instance—in the post-hurricane period will likewise hit the poor the hardest, and people will die if nothing is done. Meanwhile, as the reconstruction process continues, health facilities and other social services in poorer neighborhoods are likely to be the last to be rebuilt. And so on and so on.

It’s so especially critical that the media reports these things because otherwise, no one else will think of them. But Shafer’s right: “When disaster strikes, Americans—especially journalists—like to pretend that no matter who gets hit, no matter what race, color, creed, or socioeconomic level they hail from, we’re all in it together.” That’s just not true. And perpetuating that myth only leads to further confusion, like the big media “mystery” that not everyone in the city could just shell out $3,000 and leave New Orleans for a few months.


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