Out of the U.S. capital come two excellent pieces from two different newspapers today.
Charles Krauthammer plays the blame game in The Washington Post, but in a non-partisan way:
In less enlightened times there was no catastrophe independent of human agency. When the plague or some other natural disaster struck, witches were burned, Jews were massacred and all felt better (except the witches and Jews).
A few centuries later, our progressive thinkers have progressed not an inch. No fall of a sparrow on this planet is not attributed to sin and human perfidy. The three current favorites are: (1) global warming, (2) the war in Iraq and (3) tax cuts. Katrina hits and the unholy trinity is immediately invoked to damn sinner-in-chief George W. Bush.
Some would say that's defending Bush, that it's completely partisan. Those people should remove their heads from their rectums so they can hear this next part clearly. Krauthammer specifically lays blame at Bush's feet later on in the piece when he labels the President's response "late, slow, and simply out of tune with the urgency and magnitude of the disaster."
What Krauthammer is saying is that pointing only one finger, and that finger at GWB is asinine. As you might have gathered already, I agree with this assessment.
In their myopic, obsessive focus on Bush, windbags like E.J. Dionne let everyone else - many even more responsible than the man in the White House - completely off the hook. That in and of itself isn't enough to get my blood boiling - people get stuck with more blame than they deserve all the time. No, the problem is that this time, if people like Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco and their administrations get off scot free then there's absolutely no motivation to fix the problems that pervaded their levels of government and crippled evacuation and relief efforts.
I've called into question Bush's decision to appoint an incompetent FEMA head and to disappear through the critical opening stages of this tragedy, and I'm not alone. Why can I not see a blogger or columnist from the other side of the political divide ask why Nagin didn't follow his own disaster plan? Or how Blanco dropped the ball because she thought Nagin was taking care of the evacuation? Or why the state Homeland Security Department - Blanco's purview, again - wouldn't let the American Red Cross into NOLA after the hurricane? These are important questions, and they shouldn't be ignored because they can't be tied back to the White House.
The other piece, an editorial from The Washington Times, says something many of us in the blogosphere have been saying for a week now, but it says it well:
In assessing the events on our Gulf Coast over the past fortnight it is necessary to note that thousands of Americans in News Orleans showed almost no sense of self-reliance and personal responsibility. Some, of course, were sick, infirm or otherwise helpless. But many were not. This malfeasance of citizenship is as damaging as the failures of government officials, and rectification is just as crucial.
It is worth noting, as Michael Novak has shrewdly observed, that a majority of the 80 percent of the citizens of New Orleans who took personal responsibility for getting themselves out of New Orleans before the certain danger were African American. Few were rich. Many were surely poor.
Nor was courage and self-reliance the province of merely the young and strong. There was the heartbreaking account of what rescuers found at a nursing home where 31 elderly, infirm patients died. As the end grew near, these feeble old men and women valiantly, if ineffectively, started moving furniture to try to block out the death water that was soon to consume them. God bless them all. Surely their noble souls are safe now in His hands.
To their shame, thousands of New Orleans residents who don't deserve the honor of being called citizens utterly failed to show personal responsibility. They heeded neither common sense nor a respect for their own human dignity, nor the warnings of government, to move out of danger's path.
How did so many Americans come to such a degraded condition? And what is to be done about it? This is not a matter of race, or class, or innate intelligence. It is largely the product of a mental state of dependency induced by deliberate government policy.
Franklin D. Roosevelt knew and feared the debilitating effect of putting a man on a dole. So he put millions of hungry, jobless Americans to work building roads, bridges, national park facilities -- and character. Many of those young WPA men went on to demonstrate their self-reliance and dignity carrying rifles on distant battlefields only a few years later. Many of those young women went on to be the human force in our arsenals of democracy.
Yet today, the remnants of the liberal welfare state continue to subsidize the degrading human condition of giving the down and out a check without demanding in return the personal responsibilities that develop self-reliance.
It seems you can't talk about personal responsibility without being labelled some sort of unfeeling right-wing radical these days. This absolutely boggles my mind. We're not talking about Randian philosophy here, or survival of the fittest. We're talking about common sense: if everyone's looking to everyone else to bail them out, who's left to do the bailing? The system only works if we all pull as much of our own weight as we possibly can.
When exactly did the idea of responsibilities become a solely conservative value, and rights a solely liberal one? How did we get so confused?
The people of New Orleans most certainly had a right to help from beyond city limits. But they also had a responsiblity to help themselves and others less able than themselves, and a significant proportion of them abdicated that responsibility in a most spectacular and depressing fashion.