Strangely, there is nothing in David Brooks' latest New York Times column that I find objectionable. Unfortunately, he does not sufficiently prove his point that the catastrophe in New Orleans will cause significant national political upheaval. In the editorial, Brooks uses three examples of American deluges which occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: the Johnstown Flood of 1889, Galveston Hurricane of 1900, and the Mississippi Flood of 1927.
Brooks notes that public anger in the aftermath of the Johnstown Flood originally fell on the Hungarian immigrant population in the area, but quickly moved toward wealthy industrialists. Brooks believes that this outrage had a significant effect on the Progressive movement. Halfway through the article, it would be reasonable for the reader to think that Brooks believed that anger toward political figures or businessmen would be the result of Hurricane Katrina.
But if this is Brooks' thesis, his use of the Galveston Hurricane is weak at best:
In 1900, another great storm hit the U.S., killing over 6,000 people in Galveston, Tex. The storm exposed racial animosities, for this time stories (equally false) swept through the press accusing blacks of cutting off the fingers of corpses to steal wedding rings. The devastation ended Galveston's chance to beat out Houston as Texas' leading port.
All hope of a coherent Brooks column disappears with his final example, which ironically involves New Orleans itself. He claims that the 1927 flood had two consequences - increased racial strife and a populist movement that supported the New Deal. I am not sure how many Southern blacks moved North as a result of the flood, and I believe it would be difficult to quantify the political impact (if any) of such a move. Similarly, it is certain the flood was just one of many events that affected rural support for the New Deal.
With unclear reasoning throughout his column, it is difficult to interpret what Brooks wants us to take away from his concluding paragraph. When he writes, "Take a close look at the people you see wandering, devastated, around New Orleans: they are predominantly black and poor. The political disturbances are still to come," it is not clear which disturbances he is talking about. Will the press blame the residents of New Orleans for their own plight, as posts at Making Light and Airbag would suggest? Is there evidence to suggest that wealthy businessmen helped cause the levees to fail? Or does Brooks believe that the economic hardships that the affected people are sure to face will become the rallying cry of a new Southern Populist movement that will lash out against the Republican leadership during next year's congressional elections? We cannot be sure, or even make reasonable guesses, as Brooks' thoughts remain as murky as the New Orleans floodwaters.