Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Federal Gov't Not the Solution

Fire of Liberty
John Tierney has an excellent column in today's New York Times which notes that we can argue on and on about how the Federal Government seemingly responded slowly to the floodwaters or seemed to be disorganized but a brunt of the responsibility falls on the state and local authorities. In fact the main problem with the whole failure at the state and local level is that New Orleans and LA lacked take charge leaders who lead the parade and get the floats (no pun intended) moving in an orderly fashion. Instead of running around like a chicken with its head cut off and playing 20 questions and cussing on the radio, these local and state officials could have evacuated the sick and elderly and ordered New Orleans closed to incoming traffic after the storm touched down. Here's what Tierney noted in his column:
That simple strategy could have persuaded hundreds of people to save their own lives in New Orleans. What the city needed most was coldly effective local leaders, not a president in Washington who could feel their pain. It's the same lesson America should have learned from Sept. 11 and other disasters, yet both liberals and conservatives keep ignoring it.

The liberals bewailing the insensitivity and racism of Republicans in Washington sound like a bad rerun of the 1960s, when urban riots were blamed on everyone but the rioters and the police. Yes, the White House did a terrible job of responding to Katrina, but Democratic leaders in New Orleans and Louisiana didn't even fulfill their basic duties.

In coastal Virginia - which, by the way, has a large black population and plenty of Republican politicians - Judkins and his colleagues assume that it's their job to evacuate people, maintain order and stockpile supplies to last for 72 hours, until federal help arrives. In New Orleans, the mayor seemed to assume all that was beyond his control, just like the mayors in the 1960s who let the riots occur.

They said their cities couldn't survive without help from Washington, which proceeded to shower inner cities with money and programs that did more damage than the riots. Cities didn't recover until some mayors, especially Republicans like New York's Rudy Giuliani, tried self-reliance.

Giuliani was called heartless and racist for cutting the welfare rolls and focusing on crime reduction, but black neighborhoods were the greatest beneficiaries of his policies. He was criticized for ignoring social services as he concentrated on reorganizing the Police and Fire Departments, but his cold effectiveness paid off and made New York a more livable place and kept it calm after the Sept. 11 attacks.
I'll admit that a Rudy like character is hard to find in every major city of America but I think the folks of NO could have used such an individual like him in the hours prior to this tragedy. The local and state government's have to realize that the Federal Government doesn't move in a disaster until the state or local officials tell them what they need. I think that the best folks to assess the situation at hand is the state and local officials who are close to the situation, know the area, and the special problems that few in the federal government or FEMA know about. Since I'm a strong believer of federalism, in which the state and local authorities are delegated all other powers that the Constitution doesn't enumerate to the federal government, I always prefer the states to do their own thing before the federal government butts in its ugly head into the tent. So maybe the states need to reassess their whole emergency management procedures and get their house in order before the next disaster, whether it be the rewriting of such plans or voting in new leaders who take charge in a time of crisis. (Since I'm a strong believer in federalism I'll let the folks of LA to decide.) In the whole scope of things, local and state decisions as well as the involvement of private charities are far better than waiting idly by for the feds.

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