Monday, September 05, 2005

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.

8 Comments:

At 6:25 AM, Blogger Hoots said...

Absolutely right.
It is very hard to find any commentary or news report that seems not to have an agenda. If polarization was a problem before this event, it is fast becoming a way of life with each passing day.

Tom Watson made an excellent point when he said "This is a political moment."

Like everyone else he was advancing his own strain of partisanship. But aside from that he was correct on the greater point: if we wait until "normal" returns, only the most successful spinners will be left. Military historians know that in war the line of command may very well devolve to a much lower link in the chain. Somebody has to be in control or there will be chaos.

Clearly there is no Guiliani in all this mess. (It's too big.) But if there were, it would be someone who would forget permission and proceed with a "lead, follow or get out of the way" attitude. The kid who took the schoolbus and drove to Texas with a load of people is the only example I have read about so far. There may be others, but they haven't made the news.

 
At 4:56 PM, Blogger Tom Strong said...

I wouldn't assume that popular opinion is as monolithic as you suggest. Per recent polling, the approval rating for Bush on Hurricane Katrina ranges between 38 - 46%, and is overwhelmingly partisan.

Of course, that's Bush, not the feds in general. But the fact that it's Bush is important, because as the president he's the point of focus for all such partisan debates. And what that suggests is that, as usual, people choose their opinions on the Katrina response based on what tribe they're in.

 
At 7:46 PM, Blogger Shay said...

Other than the fact that you fail to point out that the ABC News poll showed that **even more Americans*** placed more blame on the state and local government (while also blaming federal government), I otherwise agree with your commentary. That is also spinning the poll results.

 
At 9:18 PM, Blogger AubreyJ said...

There’s plenty of room for blame to go around but now is not the time… It’s been a week now and there is still people in rural areas that have not seen the first of FEMA- Red Cross – ANYBODY… This is where the focus needs to be for now… Saving lives… and helping the ones in need…
AubreyJ………

 
At 11:22 PM, Anonymous Jennifer said...

Good Lord, I'm sick of people laying the blame at the door of the local and state government for a freakin disaster that will impact the entire country, if not the world.

I am from right outside of New Orleans, now in Atlanta. Ever since before I was born (some 30 years ago) the local wetland experts, etc, have been issueing warnings about the consequences of a storm like this. Every single citizen who ever read the Times Picayune knows this stuff.

For DECADES the local and state government has tried to get aid from the feds to protect New Orleans and the coast from erosion (the barrier islands that would absorb the storm surge that broke the levees are all but gone from erosion), flood, and hurricane impact. And ever FRICKIN year the feds call it pork and lay it on something as stupid as long range missile defense in freakin Kansas or something....

And you can't blame this on Blanco. She inherited a system so freakin broke it will take decades to fix...thank you Gov Edwin Edwards.....

And you can't blame Mayor Nagin. He's only a mayor. And he did what he could....he made a lot of noise.

Look, we have a federal government for one reason and one only. And that is to protect and aid state governments when they cannot help themselves. A natural disaster such as this is exactly large enough to be beyond the resources of a state or local government. In fact, in a disaster such as this, the local and state government WILL collapse and the feds MUST assist.

That this was not anticipated by the feds only shows they're not FREAKING PAYING ATTENTION!

Am I mad? Hell, yes! My city is down.

 
At 11:29 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

For the record, I'm not blaming Bush specifically. I'm saying the federal government could have done better. I don't believe he showed any great leadership but nor do I think he personally bungled this.

And, yes, the focus should be on helping those who need help. But I think we can give with both hands and our hearts even as we use our minds to wonder what went wrong.

 
At 10:39 AM, Blogger Rob Jackson said...

Alan,

I think you nail it on the head when you ask us not to argue within the accepted paradigm.

Though I said I admired Nagin for his candidness, he and his government should share blame with Gov. Blanco and her staff and the federal government.

The biggest problem I have with FEMA and Homeland Security is that they're hiding behind "this was outside the paradigm," therefore we were taken by surprise.

And that is just BS. You knew it could happen, you didn't change the paradigm, it happened and now we're living with the results.

Our response at every level was inadequate or late or both.

At another level, the reponses you quoted in your post bother me because they're in the past tense. I understand that we're sitting here and just analyzing the initial response and whether it was admirable, but we should keep our eye on the much, much, much bigger problems we face. Remember, we're not done with hurricane season and Florida still likes inviting hurricanes to our shores. Hopefully we will all be chipping in to aid in the recovery and rebuilding process for a long time to come. The help will be sorely needed.

 
At 5:45 PM, Blogger AubreyJ said...

From a post I did today...
(Thanks for putting up with me Alan and Joe...)

What’s wrong with this country today is we ALL want our freedom-- as we should. To have the government stay out of our lives, our house, our phones, our ID, to do as we personally wish when we wish it-- to make our own decisions, to go and worship or the right not too-- and of course keep all parts of church and government separate…

Yet-- let the Crap hit the fan-- Where is the Government??? Why didn’t you do this or that for ME??? How DARE you fail me!!! I DEMAND you fix my life back to the way it was, so I can again wish all my freedoms and YOU my government out of my life for what I wish will be forever…

Right or wrong… this IS THE AMERICA we live in….. It’s not politics that’s gone amuck today… It’s our own- freedom filled spoiled asses that need to wake up to the realities on the ground today…

In the future- when we know just what the heck happened with the response to this Disaster, we will have to make a few HARD decisions… A starter would be to cut a lot of this RED TAPE and a few of those Politically Correct Reckonings we so cherish to allow the Government to kick in faster and more efficient and to be able to override state with the military… That sounds spooky I know- but in extreme cases, like the one we just went through, something along these lines is going to have to give to hopefully save hundreds, if not thousands of lives the next time out… And there will someday be- a next time… History so proves this fact to be true… (Want to know who to blame for the slow response in this Disaster??? Next time you go to the bathroom… look in the mirror.)
AubreyJ......
September 8, 2005

 

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