Third Way Thoughts on Federal response to Katrina
Like much of America, our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Louisiana and Mississippi. We are deeply saddened by the loss of life, loved ones, friends, homes, businesses and property. Also, like much of America, we are disappointed by the federal government’s response to the crisis. Below are some of our thoughts about why we believe the federal response was so unsatisfactory.
— The Staff of Third Way
_“My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years – to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”_
— Grover Norquist
For decade after decade, the conservative movement has espoused the denigration and dismantling of government as its raison d’etre. They consider it their duty to convince people that government is the cause of, not the solution to, their problems. They have ridiculed government service as a profession and have excoriated government as an institution.
Now they are in charge of a government of their own creation. Congress has been under conservative domination for 11 years, the White House for 5. When times are good, the need for government is obviously less — just like health insurance may seem like a waste of money when a person is healthy. But just as you cannot build a powerful military overnight to solve an international crisis, you cannot build a competent government overnight to solve a domestic crisis.
Thus, the result of an ideology which hates government and controls government is the following predictable outcomes:
- We have a FEMA Director who is unqualified for the job. Brown’s incompetence isn’t merely because he is a patronage appointment but because it is, by definition, impossible to attract qualified people to run civil agencies when these agencies do not have the support of the President or Congress. Newt Gingrich made the suggestion of putting Rudy Giuliani in charge of the crisis. Nice soundbite. The point is that we needed Rudy Giuliani, or someone of his ilk, before this or any other crisis hit America. But with a leader, a movement, and a dominant ideology that disdains government, why would the best and the brightest want to be a part of government?
- America has an energy crisis and gasoline approaching $4 a gallon, yet we have barely heard from the Energy Secretary and there is no coherent plan to bring power to the Gulf and ease the gasoline crunch nationwide. With a government that has as its main ideological pillar “letting the market solve the nation’s problem,” our Katrina energy policy seems to be to beg the oil industry not to “price gouge.”
- There are a half million Americans without homes, yet besides warehousing people in giant stadiums and overcrowded shelters, there is no plan to relocate people and ease their burden. Has anyone even seen the Housing Secretary this week? Can anyone name the HUD Secretary? And has anyone heard of any coherent plan to help families cope with this massive migration? The conservatives behind this Administration believe the Housing Department shouldn’t even exist – so naturally, an organization that shouldn’t exist won’t have a real plan.
- Several hundred thousand children from Mississippi and Louisiana were supposed to start school this week. Has anyone seen the Secretary of Education or heard of his plan to help localities teach these displaced children? Is it any wonder that this agency on the conservative hit list has no plan?
- Where was the Department of Health and Human Services when thousands of people sat festering and dying for lack of water, medication, food, and sanitation in the Superdome? This is the agency conservatives decried as the most wasteful in government.
- Where is the plan from the Commerce Department to shift our imports and exports of shipped goods from the Port of New Orleans to alternative ports?
- Where is the contingency plan from the EPA to clean up this toxic disaster? Has anyone even seen the EPA Secretary? This is another agency on the conservative hit list.
No government could have completely protected the Gulf region from the wrath of Katrina. But a progressive government would have made a huge difference. At the heads of each department would be people who believed in their agencies, its mission and its capacity to act. At the heads of each department would be highly competent people attracted to an important job, not a lackey who believes the department existence is a mistake of Congress.
The next American catastrophe may be a dirty bomb in Boston or the poisoning of the water supply in Atlanta. Who can be trusted to steer America through those times — those who believe government is part of the solution or all of the problem?
Finally, to prove that a leopard cannot change its spots, President Bush yesterday used a cabinet meeting to urge American citizens to donate to the Red Cross and the United Way. Charity is very important and we’re sure that Americans will donate all that they can — with our without the President’s call. But we are not Bangladesh. Volunteerism is not a substitute for effective government. Shouldn’t our government carry the primary load in tragedies such as these?
According to conservatives, the answer is an unequivocal “no.” This was put out by the Administration’s friends at the Cato Institute yesterday (September 6th).
“In Civil Society to the Rescue, Michael Tanner, Cato’s director of health and welfare studies, observes, ‘private charities have been more successful than government welfare has at actually helping people for several reasons.
“[Perhaps most importantly], private charity requires a different attitude on the part of both recipients and donors. Recipients learn that private charity is not an entitlement but a gift carrying reciprocal obligations. Donors learn that private charity demands they become directly involved.
“There is no compassion in spending someone else’s money—even for a good cause. True compassion depends on personal involvement.”
“Thus private charity is ennobling for everyone involved, both those who give and those who receive. Government welfare ennobles no one.’”
Forty years of degrading the value of public institutions, of blaming government for all of society’s ills, of attacking civil servants can only lead to one predictable outcome: When a government whose incompetence in the face of crisis validates the very anti-government philosophy conservatives hold so dear; then it is the wrong public philosophy for America, and these are the wrong people to be leading our country at this moment in our history
Contact: Matt Bennett (202) 775-3768 x212