Roger L. Simon

The Politics of the Last Five Minutes - revisited

Some time back I accidentally coined a term that some people (well, two or three) picked up – “The Politics of the Last Five Minutes.” All media folks – journalists, bloggers, yours truly (most certainly) – are prey to this. Something new and different happens, panic sets in. Everything you thought is suddenly subject to revision.

David Brooks, normally a level-headed sort, let loose yesterday:

Reaganite conservatism was the response to the pessimism and feebleness of the 1970’s. Maybe this time there will be a progressive resurgence. Maybe we are entering an age of hardheaded law and order. (Rudy Giuliani, an unlikely G.O.P. nominee a few months ago, could now win in a walk.) Maybe there will be call for McCainist patriotism and nonpartisan independence. All we can be sure of is that the political culture is about to undergo some big change.

We’re not really at a tipping point as much as a bursting point. People are mad as hell, unwilling to take it anymore.

Well, maybe. Maybe not. Besides hedging his bets in a major way by scattering his predictions all over the map, Brooks seems to me engaged in, well, to be overly self-promotional, the Politics of the Last Five Minutes.

The proximate cause is, of course, New Orleans. Now I believe I have the usual great degree of sympathy for the victims of this catastrophe and – now back in the USA – have just made my donation to the rehabilitation effort. But was I suprised by the tardy/disorganized response to the hurricane disaster? To be perfectly frank, not at all. New Orleans, for all its myriad pleasures and extraordinary importance to the history of music and many other forms of culture, for all its being close to the most entertaining city in America to visit, if not the most entertaining, was always a center of hugely corrupt politics and notoriously so. Like the state of Louisiana itself, New Orleans has been that way for as long as I can remember and undoubtedly before that. (Hello, Robert Penn Warren!) To expect the city suddenly to change its culture and react to catastrophe with the organization and speed of, say, Osaka or Seattle is absurd.

Now I don’t mean to say everything was done right. But I’m reasonably certain not everything was done wrong either. And the amount of knee-jerk venom being spewed is just silly. (Speaking of Robert Penn Warren, I wouldn’t expected this man to have actually read “All the King’s Men” – he’s an agent after all – but he at least could have looked over the coverage.)