The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, simmering for years, has only recently pushed its way into our national conscience. I read with horror that children in a 21st century American city have been poisoned by their public water supply. The problem began about two years ago when, as part of cost-cutting efforts in a beleaguered city, Flint’s water supply was moved from Lake Huron to the notoriously dirty Flint River. The depth of the problem came to light as the result of a single doctor, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, not the EPA, CDC, or the State of Michigan. I read with disgust reports of finger pointing, partisan bickering and opportunism as federal and local governments try to escape the harsh glare and judgment of Flint citizens.
But my purpose here is not to try to explain the details of this tragedy. Rather it is to wonder who will emerge to fix the problem and ensure it doesn’t happen again. It is easy to conjure a Gandhi, who would begin a hunger strike until the drinking water was safe and the children received appropriate medical care. Or a Martin Luther King leading a march down the streets of Flint; holding hands and praying with local, state and federal officials; and with soaring oratory shaming them all until solutions were found and implemented. But these leaders evoke a call to action, they don’t provide a solution. What Flint needs now is a General Russel Honoré, who disregarded then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and began the systematic rebuilding of that city after Hurricane Katrina.
Sadly, we lack any such leaders because we have allowed partisanship to creep into every aspect of problems that need solutions, not rhetoric. Leadership and the media constantly devote their energy looking for someone to blame rather than for solutions. And every solution is weighed against who will get the credit, and who will get the blame. If the wrong person will get credit, the solution is scrapped. Accordingly, nothing, or very little, ever gets done and the men, women and children on the street suffer through delay after delay.
At one time, former President Bill Clinton might have been able to play such a role. He and President Bush joined hands after Hurricane Katrina and raised a lot of money to aid hurricane victims. They did so again when disaster hit in Haiti. But if either were to jump into the Flint mess, it would be viewed as opportunism. Hillary’s and Jeb’s candidacies have cost America the two most likely candidates for moral leadership we had or will have for a decade.
I don’t know where such a leader may come from, but we should not give up hope. Our country’s infrastructure is falling apart, although you wouldn’t know it if you watch the presidential debates. Apparently what is more important than poisoning children is either who is more progressive or who is a true conservative. Both parties seem more interested in waging war half way around the globe in order to feed the military-industrial complex than in fixing water pipes or paving roads in our own country.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Politicians prefer Military-Industrial Complex to infrastructure.[/pullquote]
It has taken over two years for the plight of Flint to even become a blip on the radar screen, mainly through the efforts of local parents and one doctor. Now presidential candidates are holding debates in Flint; the FBI and the Justice Department are running around looking for someone to indict. Congress is debating ad nauseam who should pay for the repairs, and every elected official in Michigan is pointing his middle finger toward someone else. Who will solve the problem? The EPA?—not likely.
President Obama should appoint a strong independent supervisor who can cut through the political crap, whose engineers and construction crews will immediately began to replace damaged pipes and design a new water treatment system for the city of Flint. Americans do care—soon trailers full of medical equipment and doctors and nurses will show up. Others will bring water, food and filtration systems used by the military overseas. Just as they did after Katrina, people from all over the country will flock to Flint to help their brothers and sisters, black or white. Americans as a whole could care a rat’s behind whether a disaster is natural or man-made.
When I turn on the faucet every morning I expect to find clean, safe drinking water, don’t you? When I pull out of the driveway, I expect a paved street, free of potholes and safe for travel. When I enter a tunnel, I expect it to be dry and safe, don’t you? I bet the citizens of Flint used to think the same thing—they don’t anymore. Maybe we shouldn’t either.