Popular Opinion is Right This Time
There's something a little out-of-place with pointing fingers before a tragedy has even fully passed. But in the wake of Katrina, popular opinion seems to be that the federal government was too slow in its response. And where there is popular opinion, you can guarantee that there will be those who believe they are superior to it.
Power Line has done its usual frantic spin to protect Republican interests. As have other right-wing bloggers and commentators intent on convincing readers that the Katrina failure was completely a local one and that the federal government performed admirably. These opinions are to be expected from partisan hacks. But they aren't alone. Dean Esmay of Dean's World has also joined the voices claiming "there was no problem with the federal response."
I respect Dean. He's a smart man with truly original opinions. But when he gets it wrong, he gets it really, really wrong. His weakness is a rampant distrust of popular opinion. If everyone is saying one thing, Dean feels compelled to say the other. Sometimes that's the right response. But this time, it's dead wrong.
Here's the thing: it’s right to blame the New Orleans city government. They failed miserably to protect and then rescue their city. But to absolve (or even mostly absolve) the federal government is wrong. By last Tuesday night, it was clear the local government was on the brink of failure. Why did it take until Friday for the federal government to respond in any meaningful way?
Don't tell me that FEMA's guidelines say it will take 72 hours to respond. Don't tell me that this was an "adequate" response within the "norm." Don't sit behind your TV or computer and turn this into an intellectual exercise about the proper delegation of power between federal and local governments. Look at what happened. Read what happened. And then ask: should this have happened in America?
The answer is no. I don't care if the response was within the established paradigms. What I care is that the severity of the disaster did not spur the federal government to break free of those paradigms. The federal government could have done better. Should have done better.
Blame the New Orleans government. They deserve it. But don't shield the feds. A government's primary responsibility is to protect its people. The execution of that duty should rely on need, not on guidelines. The need was great. The response was not.
Sometimes popular opinion is exactly right.