Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Tierney: A Voice of Reason on the Hurricane Katrina Debacle

John Tierney has an excellent column that cuts through all the nonsense related to the disaster response efforts for Hurricane Katrina. The key paragraph, written by a man often critical of the President, says this:

The liberals bewailing the insensitivity and racism of Republicans in Washington sound like a bad rerun of the 1960's, 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.

From my perspective, President Bush certainly must accept some blame. But not for the evil or misdeeds attributed to him:

In 2001, he should have taken the Federal Emergency Management Administration's mission more seriously by nominating numbers 1 and 2 leaders who had some experience dealing with disasters.

In 2002, the President should never have acquiesced to establishing the Department of Homeland Defense, a largely symbolic gesture that, among other things, put FEMA at another remove from both the White House and from local disaster relief agencies and created organizational ambiguity on the ground.
From my perspective, the city of New Orleans must also accept blame. Indeed, I think that it is mostly to blame for the tragedies that have unfolded since before Katrina made landfall:

There appears to have been no plan in place for evacuating people from a city everybody knew was vulnerable to the precise set of disasters that unfolded nine days ago.

Even without such a plan, the city could have easily commandeered the hundreds of mass transit and school buses to effect an evacuation for those unable to transport themselves. The city government displayed a shocking insensitivity to the financial wherewithal of some of its citizens, apparently assuming that they all had vehicles capable of making the trip out of New Orleans or knew somebody who did.
As readers of this blog know, while I do make political observations--without much, if any, relationship to ideology, I do, without regard to party or philosophy, try to speak up for simple justice for people and will also try to offer up points that I think add to the fairness of a discussion.

I feel that the people of New Orleans were treated unjustly in this tragedy. I don't think it involved racism, although classism may have played a role in the naive approach taken by the city government there.

But the biggest source of the injustice to which Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans and elsewhere were subjected was a much simpler and perhaps, more deadly one: incompetence at both the local and federal levels. I don't blame the police, National Guard personnel, relief workers, or disaster responders on the ground, but the local and federal leaders who simply didn't appear to have their acts together.

This was shocking because in previous disasters in other parts of the hurricane-prone northeast, we've been accustomed to seeing competence from both local governments and from FEMA. Hopefully, some valuable lessons will be learned from this disaster.

Read Tierney's column. It's a breath of fresh air in what has become an often absurd debate.

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