Monday, September 19, 2005

On Second Thought

Not long after I posted my little piece on how I couldn't get too excited about blaming Bush for botching the Katrina relief efforts, I ran into a column that made me remember it's important to lay blame where appropriate (here, on Bush and on other officials), even when you're not excited about it.

Matthew Spalding from the Heritage Foundation has a dumb column on the BBC website. This is a slightly modified version of my response in the BBC's little response area.

Spalding suggests that Americans' unified and generous response to Katrina's devastation proves two things: first, that government is bad at disaster relief and, second, that we're not a nation of increasingly isolated and alienated individuals. Spalding's claims--like many of the Heritage Foundation's--are suspect and misleading.

His first claim is smoke and mirrors designed to erase any calls for accountability in the bungled governmental response to Katrina. In a particularly tortured sentence, Spalding claims, “The governmental-centred response witnessed post-9/11 is not the answer, and cost at least some people their lives.” It’s absolutely true that the bungled government response exacerbated problems and very possibly added to the death toll. But that’s not because it was “governmental-centred” but rather because it was bungled. There’s nothing intrinsic in the nature of the operation that made government response inappropriate or unnecessary. Spalding's claim that governmental (i.e., federal) involvement in 9/11 reconstruction was somehow appropriate given “national security” concerns whereas it was inappropriate in response to Katrina is profoundly odd. Rebuilding is rebuilding, rescuing is rescuing, whoever or whatever caused the devastation

echo Mike, the Red Cross is great, and god bless them for doing what they do (interesting how the conservatives love the Red Cross when it does the military's job but not when it criticizes the way the military does its own job) but what the hell is Spalding talking about when he says that disaster relief should be primarily the undertaking of private organizations? Do we really want to depend on volunteers to provide food, supplies, shelter, and peacekeeping every time there's a natural disaster? Exactly what private volunteer organization do we entrust with setting up roadblocks, controlling looting, and enforcing curfew? What if the Klan or the Michigan Militia are the only organizations that volunteer? The mind boggles.

Spalding alleges that the National Guard responded too slowly and thereby left people stranded in the cities. The National Guard has often successfully helped disaster victims. Any slowness this time proves that the commanders didn’t get their acts in gear in this specific instance, not that the National Guard couldn’t or shouldn’t do such work. Or maybe the alleged slowness proves that our National Guard could better protect American lives if they were deployed in New Orleans rather than in Baghdad.

Spalding’s second claim (that America’s outpouring of sympathy proves that we don’t feel lonely and isolated on a daily basis) is also off the mark. To me, the overwhelming American response to Katrina implies the exact opposite. Most of our sympathy and help for Katrina’s victims has to do a basic humane desire to help people in need, but I suspect much of our eagerness to provide that help and sympathy—as with the tsunami before it—comes from a sense of gratitude to rediscover, at least momentarily, a sense of meaningful connection to other people, from a delight at being able to help solve a specific, concrete problem so different from the unrelenting but subtle and non-physical problem that is our daily experience of detached loneliness.

3 Comments:

At 8:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 9:01 AM , Blogger tifanie said...

Jon, you are completely correct. Lovely final paragraph, too

 
At 2:01 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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