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September 09, 2005

The Debate on How to Fix Governmental Failure

In a comment on a previous post, 'dem' made a good point with respect to the timeliness of talking about responsibility for the response, or slowness thereof, to Katrina.

In a previous post I deferred to you and other conservatives when you said that a discussion of the topic of responsibility and accountability should wait. But at some point our country needs to have that discussion. When do you think an appropriate time should be? Because the longer conservatives say "now is not the time", the more it looks like conservatives are planning to say "we need to move on" when the topic is forced to the forefront of discussions about the catastrophe at a later date. I hope that is not the case. We need to learn from the shameful mistakes that were made during this crisis to prevent people from suffering again in the future.

I think we're approaching that time. The histrionics began on the Left with RFK Jr.'s "Reap the Whirlwind" screed that blamed Katrina in general, and the Mississippi devastation in particular, on global warming brought on personally by Haley Barbour. Today, however, not falling into the "let's move on" trap, the Right weighs in with a much more even-handed look by Charles Krauthammer. He notes plenty of blame to pass around, and in a spirit of non-partisanship, pulls no punches from anyone. His list, with reasons, includes:
  • Nature (or Nature's God)
  • The Mayor of New Orleans
  • The Governor
  • The head of FEMA
  • The President
  • Congress
  • The American people

I think he missed the head of HomeSec, to whom the head of FEMA currently reports, but aside from that, this is a good list to start with.

One of the questions to come out of this would be, does this indicate that we need more government or less? Our own Rick Brady has asked the question, does this indicate that we need stronger federal government?

As to the bigger/smaller government question, I noted here (and now it's confirmed) that the Red Cross was asked not to come in to New Orleans with food, water and supplies. Instead, the LA National Guard was tasked with providing it, rather than putting those forces into rescuing survivors. While the Mayor was pleading for those provisions, his own state HomeSec CEO was turning it away. This is a bureaucracy out of control. The same charge can be leveled at FEMA. I watched from an airport TV as Paula Zahn reacted with shock when Mike Brown said they'd just found out about the people in the convention center. Some of this may be poor decision-making and/or incompetence, but some of it is wrapped in governmental red tape. And read this story about a guy who ignored the restrictions and just did the right thing.

Should the government be a part of disaster recovery? I believe so (although read this commentary for an interesting counterpoint, from one man's legal and Christian point of view). But would the government respond better if it were smaller and more streamlined? I think that's a definite "Yes". And this applies to all strata of government. When Rudi took charge on 9/11, that was a great example of streamlined (and local) government in action. It's the red tape that's holding things back.

How about the idea that the federal government should take a stronger role in this, overriding at will the wishes of the states when it determines it needs to? My main problem with this is that we're simply substituting the judgement of one group of people (further away from the potential problem) for another group. Is this necessarily any better? If the feds have better intelligence, and thus think they should go in, instead of going in, this intel should be given to those affected and let them decide. Conservatives generally believe that local solutions to local problems are better than one-size-fits-all boondoggles. How, then, is a stronger, more intrusive federal government better in this instance? Greater resources? Sure. But they're already available to states if they ask for them. Now, the governor didn't want to do that until Tuesday, which was a bit late, and was unwilling to do that beforehand. However, I don't think that the failure of a single governor to act should mean that we now give the feds the power to second-guess the other 49 as well. Just like the meaning of the Interstate Commerce Clause has been expanded beyond recognition, the same fate could await the Insurrection Act if we go down this path. Do you think the federal government, under any party, will reign itself in? (Hint: The guys who wrote the Constitution said "No".)

Katrina has brought this debate to the fore, and it's a good debate to have. But keep an eye on the lessons of history.

UPDATE: Congressman Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has some similar thoughts (and examples).

Posted by Doug at September 9, 2005 09:46 AM

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