Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Politics of Relief ... Aside from a brief respite Thursday evening, I spent the latter half of this past week in orientation training for a new job. As a result, I didn't get a sense of just how bad things in New Orleans had become until today.

What would seem to be obvious at this point is that human fallibility has severely compounded the suffering of an otherwise "natural" disaster. And as is typically the case when catastrophe and error intersect, the tragedy as a whole has consequently acquired a political nature. Even before the situation has been brought under control, the political class is already either accepting liability or contesting blame.

Since both parties agree that the federal government has responded with gross incompetence, to the extent that political discord exists the responsibility lies with the left. And that responsibility is, in my view, shameful. Those on the left who have begun attributing the manifold failures of the government here to the same Republican policies that they decried prior to Katrina are betraying both a profound ignorance of crisis management and a reprehensible willingness to exact political gain out of the most abject suffering.

To illustrate this, we need look no further than two common criticisms:

#1. The Bush administration is racist. This accusation is immaterial to the case at hand. Bush was slow to respond not because the victims were black but because of an alarming incapacity to calculate the population of non-evacuees and an equally stunning inability to grasp the magnitude of damage to local infrastructure. To the extent that racism played a role, it did so only at the city and state level, where officials failed to account for poor black communities in evacuation planning.

#2. The recent budget defeat for proposed levee construction reflects the insufficiency of limited government policies. Again, this is immaterial. Even if the Democrats were in power, the proposed construction would never have gone through. The reason lies in the numbers: the likelihood of a category 4 or 5 hurricane striking New Orleans is .5% in any given year; the likelihood of a congressional election, 50%. Given the low probability that a Katrina-type hurricane would happen in any one congressional session, the political liability of authorizing the exorbitant price tag was far greater than the liability of not doing so.

Back to the point: scoring cheap political points at a time of national crisis is abhorrent. The incompetence of our federal response speaks for itself, in the refugees that remain unattended and the corpses that remain untouched. Partisan gamesmanship bespeaks nothing more than the rank insensitivity of those who engage in it.


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