The Politics Of Blame

Jeff Goldstein has an excellent piece on Hurricane Katrina and the politics of blame. The speed at which the Hurricane became yet another left-wing talking point was absolutely shameful. The fact is that the United States has not seen a natural disaster on this scale in its entire history. This may well end up being a more destructive tragedy than the Chicago Fire or the San Francisco earthquake – the city of New Orleans has been flooded right off the map. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether the city itself will even survive.

The fact is that as Goldstein notes, nobody comes off from this tragedy smelling like roses. The City of New Orleans had a contingency plan for a disaster like Katrina – and the city government of New Orleans failed to follow it. The infamous picture of the rows of flooded school-buses are a testament to the incompetence of the evacuation plans.

Gov. Blanco was also horrendous. Her indecision and incompetence cost many lives in New Orleans, and President Bush had to beg her to issue a mandatory evacuation order. In a crisis, local first responders are always the first line of defense, and thanks to the general incompetence of the City of New Orleans, valuable time was wasted. Nearly two-thirds of the New Orleans police force abandoned their posts, some joining in the looting. While Mayor Nagin was at least making some effort to fight the endemic corruption in the city, it was too little, too late.

New Orleans was a lovely city and a tourist hotspot, but it was saddled with a corrupt and inefficient system of government. The levees were each under their own separate government agency, a system designed to distribute spoils to political cronies. The New Orleans Police Department collapsed, ensuring that those brave officers who didn’t abandon their duty were utterly swamped. The total destruction of civil society at the hands of thugs, rapists, and looters should be a wake up call to community leaders in other urban centers – that sort of violence and lawlessness is absolutely unacceptable.

FEMA and the National Guard did what they could, but President Bush and Secretary Chertoff lost valuable opportunities to show leadership. After September 11, President Bush’s resolve helped steel the nation – this time he seemed unable to muster the kind of resolve he needed. Granted, years of incredible strain have worn him down, but he failed to show the kind of leadership he should have. While the President can’t really do much in this sort of situation, at least he could have given the appearance of command.

The fact is that the critics only want to snipe and jab – the only thing the permanently angered minority wants is some way to crucify Bush. However, this is more important than politics. We need to continue to provide supplies and aid to those who need it and work to recover what can be recovered from the wake of disaster. Unfortunately, the poisonous political atmosphere makes that all the more difficult to achieve.

Hurricane Katrina showed some of the worst of this country. The collapse of New Orleans into a Hobbesian state of nature was nearly unthinkable for a country that prides itself on its civil society – and yet in a major American city, civil society utterly unraveled. It’s far past the time for mealymouthed excuses and race-baiting hucksterism.

Even when New Orleans is dried out, the work will not be over. We’ve never faced a disaster of this magnitude, and rebuilding may take years. What is crucial is that steps are taken to make sure that this sort of thing never happens again, and when everyone is trying to shoehorn in their own political agendas into the process, we may well be damned to repeat history once again.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin rips into FEMA Administrator Michael Brown. FEMA’s done a mediocre job at best, and hasn’t responded to this tragedy nearly as well as they should. One of the problems is that the Department of Homeland Security, while a good idea in theory, has been allowed to morph into a bureaucratic nightmare.

Of course, Brown is getting the full support of the President. Bush should have fired George Tenet and Norman Mineta after the September 11 attacks. Brown should be politely shown the door as well – which means he’s quite probably secure in his job.

UPDATE: Idiotic moves like this don’t help. FEMA seems completely unable to get its act together, and incidents like this are absolutely appalling. This should be considered a warning – our disaster-response systems aren’t doing nearly as well as they must, and we have to start making changes now before another major disaster occurs. This kind of bureaucratic ineptitude is simply unacceptable.

7 thoughts on “The Politics Of Blame

  1. The Federal government is coming out of this smelling the worst, even though you seem to hold them less accountable than anybody else in the equation (little surprise there). And one of the prime Federal culprits was the inept bureaucratic nightmare, the Department of Homeland Security, which spent three days waging turf wars with FEMA while the toxic cesspool in New Orleans festered. I knew from its politically-motivated inception in 2002 that the Dept. of Homeland Security was likely to be the most worthless boondoggle the Federal government ever created, and its only reason for existing in the first place was that the Republican Party viewed it as a backdoor way to decapitate Federal employees’ collective bargaining capacity. It’s living up to my low expectations

  2. While Gov. Blanco deserves a lot of blame, I think that blaming Mayor Nagin is rather misplaced- he did what he could given the byzantine, corrupt nightmare that was the New Orleans city government. But there is one person who should clearly not come out of this with his job intact- Michael Brown. Michelle Malkin has said it, Andrew Sullivan has said it, and I’m saying it- this incompetent loser deserves the shaft, and the sooner the better.

    In these days of terrorism, we need to be prepared to evacuate cities and have contingency plans on the books for what to do in case of the unthinkable- and an executive competent enough to carry out said plans. My recommendation for director of FEMA? Give Rudy Giuliani the job. Seriously. He’s an extremely no-nonsense administrator with a track record for organization and leadership skills under pressure. That, and he strikes me as the sort of person who would fire his own sister if she didn’t perform to his expectations. He’s just the sort you’d want in charge of an organization like this- not someone so useless that he was fired from his post as the head of the American Arabian Horse Association.

  3. Uh, lessee – If National Guard troops or, heaven forbid, active duty US Army personnel, were shown on TV bodily removing people from their homes on Friday night, the left would have been screaming “Police State!” and “Jackboots!” at the top of their screechy lungs.

    Bush wasn’t gonna catch a break here, and he knew it. He went by the book. The state and local “authorities” in LA and NO either lost the book, threw it out, or are too illiterate to read it anyway.

  4. As for Gov. Blanco’s incompetence and indecision, what exactly are you speaking of? If it’s last weekend’s Bush administration smear that she never declared a state of emergency, that’s since been discredited. She declared a state of emergency on Friday, August 26. Then again, how could anyone in the Bush administration be expected to know this? After all, they don’t read newspapers.

  5. Gotta say jay, bush did not do the right thing this time around. FEMA and the federal branch did not do enough to cut the red tape and get to the people, they spent too much time vacilating trying to get everyone on the same page, while chaos continued to explode.

    As to the department of homeland security. The real problem lies with congress and the president directing the homeland security department to focus on terrorism, not storms. It was established to deal with foreign and domestic threats, not natural threats. The fact that fema was under its control meant little.

    And keep in mind fema handled the 4 hurricanes in a row last year with amazing efficency. And you know washington’s motto “if its not broke, take some funding away from it and put it to a pet project”

  6. Bush wasn’t gonna catch a break here, and he knew it. He went by the book. The state and local “authorities” in LA and NO either lost the book, threw it out, or are too illiterate to read it anyway.

  7. “And keep in mind fema handled the 4 hurricanes in a row last year with amazing efficency.”

    So what was different this time? Same president, same agencies……Ah–different local government.

    Funding? Did FEMA lose so much funding that it found it impossible to function?

    Then why aren’t we hearing an incessant whine from Mississippi or Alabama–or even from Louisiana towns near NO that were hit just as hard–and harder. That should speak volumes….and yet it’s not. Even sensible bastions of the blogosphere aren’t harping, screaming, trumpeting this odd occurrence.

    And, civil society didn’t unravel. Rather, people whose uncivil nature has been given a repeated pass by our ‘enlighyened’, ‘progressive’ society behaved as expected when faced with a situation where no one with a bigger stick could force them to behave. Civil society has always managed to harbor a few barbarians without inflicting too much damage to itself–but, in recent years, we’ve stopped trying to be a civilizing influence for fear of offending cultural/ethnic/racial sensibilities With the veneer of civilization ripped away, the barbarians reverted to kind and we all got to see the fruits of our efforts at sensitivity.

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