Monday, September 05, 2005

Katrinagate: this one has legs

As President Bush scurries back to the Gulf Coast, it is clear that this is the greatest challenge to politics-as-usual in America since the fall of Richard Nixon in the 1970s

Maybe the administration with its legions of spin-doctors and patch things up, but it won't be easy. Even conservatives like David Brooks are irritated:

He and others are calling the debacle the "anti 9-11": "The first rule of the social fabric - that in times of crisis you protect the vulnerable - was trampled," he wrote on Sunday. "Leaving the poor in New Orleans was the moral equivalent of leaving the injured on the battlefield."

But (predictably) it was Krugman today that had it dead on:

What caused that paralysis? President Bush certainly failed his test. After 9/11, all the country really needed from him was a speech. This time it needed action - and he didn't deliver.

But the federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming?

It wasn't primarily incompetence or stupidity, though there was plenty of that to go around. It was ideology, the idea that self-reliance, compassion and charity can solve our problems. At bottom it was romanticism--our anti-instututional bias and sentimentalism--that got us in this fix, our nostalgia for traditional societies were people are self-reliant, neighbors are neighborly and people take care of their own, the Walt Disney Dick-and-Jane village, Pleasantville where all is well, and will be well.

It isn't Bush, or his administration, or the state or local officials, or anyone personally: it is that ideology and, whatever impact this has on the careers of politicians one prays that Americans will finally get it, realize that government, and institutions generally, not grassroots efforts, personal concern or charity, are the solution, not the problem.


WildMonk said...

I don't think you have this one quite pegged. The locus of complications seems to lie in the poor coordination between the State, City and Federal relief agencies. The Feds suffered from "leadership" from a rank amateur (Michael Smith, I believe) but, in many ways, they had many things at the ready. Indeed, a fair number of first responders were quite competent getting in after the initial storm. It was after the flood and, especially, the debacle at the Superdome, that things truly went to hell.

Other than the usual political hacks, I don't think most people are going to blame Bush personally (despite his tin ear in playing guitar while the floods rolled in). And, of course, the Right has an "out" via the gross incompetence of the local authorities in coordinating the evacuation and the incoming aid.

The sad thing is that, in the end, your focus on Bush (and the Bushies' focus on the locals) will
take the focus away from where it really belongs: making the emergency response system work.

This includes your comment about ideology. I'd think that most people see a clear difference between criticism of "big government" and the desire to have a competent emergency response system. The Right has always reserved a special exception for military and first response organizations. These are the things that the government is *supposed* to be good at.

In any event, while you might score some rhetorical points with your observation, it is just as easy to look at this mess and observe that all of the growth since 9/11 just seems to have made things worse.

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