Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Forest

Looking at the forest and not just the trees, many are starting to reach conclusions about the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina. The NY Times published a comprehensive overview of the response today. The article seems generally good in looking at the responses at the federal, state, and local levels describing the general confusion and lack of coordination that resulted in the disaster on top of the disaster.

Josh Marshall discusses his read:
And if I had to sum up the story it would be one of overwhelmed and often frantic local officials asking for every sort of assistance available from federal authorities, but sometimes not being completely sure precisely what they needed or the exact way to ask for it. On the other side you have the feds taking a consciously passive, reactive stance, and often displaying an oddly legalistic and bean-counterish attitude when asked for specific kinds of support.
Josh's conclusion pretty much mirrors the tone of the Times article, namely that confusion reined on all levels of government. And I suppose there's a lot of truth in this conclusion.

But I think both the Times and Josh miss an important point. The Federal government exists to deal with problems that surpass the ability of localities to manage. Whether it's defense, interstate commerce, civil rights, entitlement programs, coastal protection, international diplomacy, or indeed, disasters; the whole point of the Feds is to provide leadership and resources in instances that are beyond the ability of locals.

It seems to me that a hurricane qualifies as more than a local event. Yes, localities are certainly involved in implementing evacuation/rescue/relief efforts. But given the scope and nature of the event, it seems to me that a hurricane is a classic example of where the Federal government should be at it's best.

As we all know, that didn't happen with Katrina. Those who do the analysis of this disaster need to resist the temptation to "even-handedly" assign the blame. It seems at times that we give more value to the "even-handed" analysis (particularly in these divisive times), even if it's inaccurate. And doing so will hamstring our ability to actually fix a problem. Of course, the Bush administration will do all it can to impede this effort because as Jon Stewart put it, "if you don't like the blame game it is usually because you're to blame".

Bush ran his 2004 campaign on strong leadership in a crisis. This was a national crisis. And strong leadership is EXACTLY what was missing. Case closed. It's really just that simple. Perhaps the failure occurred because of the implementation of Grover Norquists "drown it in the bathtub" strategy, incompetence, or more likely it's both. Either way, the American people have come face to face with what it would be like to not have a Federal presence in a huge disaster.

Is this what we want?


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