The public proved, after Katrina struck New Orleans, that they still generally expect an activist federal government to become directly involved in all aspects of rebuilding society after disaster strikes - yet the Bush administration threw some rhetoric around about the poor of New Orleans without the promise of much more than fairy-dust and good will from the private sector and faith-based charity to have every destitute person's back. (ie: laissez-faire extraordinaire.) Bush continues his shifting of resources from public entities toward private ones. I don't hear the Democratic leadership pounding on this point, and Americans seem to have been appeased by the Bush rhetoric. With much disaster-fatigue, Americans seem more than ready to forget what they saw on their TV screens overthe Labor Day holiday. Political talk shows burst with boring jabber-jawing about Harriet Miers - a woman we know nothing about. A mere 40 days after a Category 5 storm decimated a major U.S. city and drove the poor from their home and their roots, we are lucky to hear Fox News Sunday or Tim Russert give it a passing comment on the Sunday talk shows.
"..if the levees had performed as they were supposed to, the deaths in New Orleans proper, the scenes in the Superdome and the city's devastation would never have taken place.
Who is responsible? Many accusations, some of them valid, have been hurled at the Orleans Levee Board, a local body. But these accusations are irrelevant. The levee board did not design or build these levees. That was entirely the responsibility of the federal government, through the Corps of Engineers.
Just as a surgeon who improperly sutures an artery is responsible if the suture ruptures and the patient bleeds to death, the federal government is directly responsible for the loss of life and property in most of the city. Although people cannot sue the federal government as they could sue the surgeon, the government still has a moral obligation to repair the damage it caused and to try to make the victims' lives whole again.
But instead of helping, Treasury Secretary John Snow recently told Congress that the administration would not guarantee the city's municipal bonds. So the city government announced the layoff of 3,000 workers. The Catholic archdiocese will let nearly 900 go. The largest employer in the city, Tulane University, may soon have to make similar cuts, and Xavier and Dillard universities, also large employers, are in even more desperate straits. How does one rebuild a city if one destroys its public services and intellectual capital?
The reality of the problems that have arisen with Grover Norquist's radically conservative dream of bringing America all the way back to pre-New Deal days has reared its ugly head in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The poor really don't stand a chance with President Bush at the wheel, intent on governing as a Norquistian while drunk on the fermented wax of his own God-in-the ear rhetorical corn squeezings. How does America thrive if the government systematically destroys its social safety net?
Bush has adopted the worst of the Coolidge administration and has taken pains to avoid the best.
In 1927 the homes of roughly one million Americans - then nearly 1 percent of the American population - were flooded. President Calvin Coolidge recognized the responsibility of the federal government to fix that problem, and it did. Now New Orleans needs neither rhetoric nor "enterprise zones," but concrete and immediate help.
- After the Deluge, Some Questions by John Barry, a visiting scholar at the Tulane-Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research, is the author of "Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America."
"As Roosevelt and Hoover understood, only the state has the financial, organizational, and human resources—not to mention the accountability to the public—to combat disasters, undertake regional development, and address issues like class and racial stratification.
And yet, ironically, even amid our reverence for the market, a return to the pre-New Deal status quo is not about to occur. Just as the underappreciated popularity of Social Security produced a groundswell of opposition last spring to Bush's privatization plan, so the public's general expectations of an activist government created the near-universal outrage over the administration's failure to help Katrina's victims promptly.
Americans may talk a good game about the magic of the private sector, but we still depend crucially on Washington—a fact that tends to be realized only in times of crisis.
- Boston Globe, Oct 2 by David Greenberg, who teaches history and media studies at Rutgers University. He is writing a biography of Calvin Coolidge.