By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Flood and fire. New Orleans and San Diego. Superdome and Qualcomm. Black and white. The juxtaposition of class opposites is Marxism’s most familiar trope. We’ve been told, however, that classes don’t exist in consumerist America — in the parking lot of Target we are all equal. And besides, “class war” today is a phrase used only by Republicans to describe the propaganda of their Democratic opponents. And yet, unless Californians are deaf, what we heard after last week’s fires was more than the sobs of ruined homeowners; there was a howl that accompanied the tearing off of bandages concealing our racial, political and — yes — class wounds.
Long before the blazes were anywhere near contained, the rhetorical ash began raining down from the blogosphere and elsewhere, as both ends of the political spectrum saw in the fires grave portents for the republic. The most visceral dialogues involved comparisons between the wildfires and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It seems unfair to match specifics when you are speaking of two completely different kinds of natural disasters that unfolded on very different topographies. Not to mention one evacuation scenario that existed in a state that lives and dies by the automobile, and another in a city whose urban grid and low-income populace were served by a self-contained, public transportation system. These obvious differences didn’t stop anyone from making such comparisons. Not for a minute.
Elected Republicans, rank-and-file conservatives and libertarians saw only a Darwinian contrast between the Superdome and Qualcomm Stadium. On one side of their dialectic was a Lord of the Flies meltdown — a regime of oxygen tanks, insulin needles and broken toilets. On the other, a veritable Renaissance Faire of suburban largess — bottled water, free massages and frozen yogurt. To men and women of the right, the contradiction was smug confirmation of the rewards of self-discipline, family values and respect for property — in short, confirmation of a superior political civilization.
A natural-born backbiter, President Bush nevertheless showed admirable self-discipline by confining his gloating about California’s resiliency to an oblique swipe at Louisiana’s outgoing Governor Kathleen Blanco when he noted during his San Diego visit, “It makes a significant difference when you have somebody in the statehouse willing to take the lead.”
Others were not so sanguine.
“The displaced people at Qualcomm stadium,” wrote one poster to a conservative Web site [transcribed exactly as written here and in the blog posts below], “are white, civilized educated and are successfull enough in life to know that this is a temp situation that doesnt require much govt help. Contrast this with NO after Katrina when the exact opposite type of people were housed.”
Or, as another poster wrote to a “white pride” site about a TV news clip:
“The people shown at Qualcomm were almost all White, while the Superdome footage looked like Haiti, or worse. The reporter was stating how peaceful and helpful everyone was in San Diego, while the NOLA negroes acted worse than wild animals.”
This prompted another person to find in Qualcomm a metaphor for American society:
“It’s the same for any schoolyard playground. Whites often pitch in and build/repaint kids playground equipment to keep it looking nice and well kept. Blacks will let their areas go to absolute filth and complain that no one’s giving them money or keeping it up for them. They blame it on racism. I blame it on their worthless, garbage people.”
If Qualcomm was a cradle of metaphor, the fires themselves provided an excuse to burnish long-standing agendas. The Stephens kangaroo rat, that reliable piñata of developers and off-road enthusiasts, suddenly and improbably figured as one key suspect in the wildfires by both a Free Republic poster and HumanEvents.com’s John Berlau. Another poster complained about environmental fanatics who coddle all those trees around Lake Arrowhead — the ones that require so much government red tape to cut and contributed to the Slide and Grass Valley fires. Many bristled at the very language employed by the media during the crisis, decrying as “politically correct” the L.A. Times’ use of the term “undocumented workers” instead of the preferred “illegal aliens.”
Anti-immigrant forces, indeed, had a field day during the fires, especially after the L.A. Times and San Diego Union-Tribune reported that six Mexicans were arrested and deported after they were caught stealing supplies from the stadium. When a few Latinos were arrested on suspicion of setting fires, it was seen as further proof of the perfidy of Washington’s immigration laws.
The vitriol against Mexicans, even — or especially — in the blogs of the Times and Union-Tribune, underscored the shrill pitch of the ongoing immigration debate. Suddenly, like the Stephens kangaroo rat, Latinos were on the wrong side of the fires. As a man complained to one blog:
“You know, one of those cats with the ‘mexican rake’ was blowing ashes off the sidewalks and onto all the parked cars. When he saw me he offered to blow off my car.”
The opinion firestorm soon jumped from Mexicans to Muslims.
“Isn’t there a verse in the Koran about the ‘breath of Satan’?” darkly wondered one Free Republic poster, amid speculation, fanned by Fox News’ Steve Doocy, that members of al-Qaeda had taken matches and gas cans in hand up into Southern California’s canyons and foothills.