These are the things, if nothing else, that government is here for. Liberals, who believe that good government can improve the our lot in life -- as Noam said, that "a robust, efficient government can mitigate, if not completely eliminate, much of the chaos and nastiness in the world" -- recognize that nothing but a powerful, central, active, federal government can do these things. Liberals identify the things that government needs to do and then find ways to fund them. Conservatives, on the other hand, think the government should be shrunk and stripped of power at all opportunities, and that taxes shouldn't be raised for all but the most obvious of social goods (if those). Even at a time when our nation is supposed to be at the highest level of disaster preparedness in history (and has the resources to), the governing conservatives didn't take steps essential to being ready for any massive disaster. If one good thing comes out of this tragedy, it will be the repudiation for decades of the idea that people who don't believe in government have any place running the government.
FEMA was downsized and partially privatized because modern Republican leaders think that's the right thing to do with federal agencies. Budgets were limited for levee construction and first responder training because Republicans have other priorities. The federal government was slow to respond to Katrina because conservatives believe states should take the lead in looking out for their own needs. George Bush talks endlessly to the cameras about the private sector helping to rebuild the Gulf Coast because that's the kind thing conservatives believe in.
Liberals, by contrast, believe in a robust role for the federal government. We believe in sharing risk nationwide for local disasters. We believe that only the federal government is big enough to coordinate relief on the scale needed by an event like Katrina, and that strong, well managed agencies like FEMA should take the lead role in making this happen.
Both of these governing philosophies are defensible, but too often they seem like nothing more than opposing sides in an intellectual game. Katrina demonstrates otherwise. It's what happens when a drowning city runs smack into a conservative
movement that believes in drowning the federal government in a bathtub.
I guess this is what you get when you elect leaders ideologically committed to the notion that government isn't good for anything.
We have two competing world views in American politics. The first says that government cannot help people. That government must be as small as possible, and exists only to provide security from external enemies. The other says that government can be a force for good and can help make people's lives better.
This week, we are seeing the effects of the lack of government. The American people are seeing what happens when the worldview is dominant. We've talked about the two disasters -- the hurrican itself, which was unavoidable, and the response to the hurricane and lack of leadership, which was.
We are seeing a third disaster -- the conservative world view itself, crashing and burning as reality meets ideology. Where government programs are slashed in the name of Norquist's drownable government, only to see an entire major city wiped off the face of the map as a result.
Liberals think there should be taxes, and that the revenue thereby raised should be spent on projects that will be useful. The GOP thinks there should be no taxes, programs should be funded if powerful interest groups want them to be funded, and the American military should mainly be used to conquer medium-sized countries that aren't threatening the United States. The result, naturally, is that useful programs wind up underfunded -- and that has consequences.Ezra Klein:
They say there are no atheists in foxholes. Similarly, there are no libertarians in the aftermath of a giant, city-wide flood. Private charities have a huge role to play in these situations, but so does the government, not least to provide coordination.
Government is failing. They're doing it obviously. And reporters and citizens alike are smart enough to extrapolate that if they failed here, they could do it again during a crisis that their hometown. Bush is discrediting small government conservatism by not mobilizing the private sector and he's highlighting the need for an effective big government to pick up the slack.
It’s moments like this when you need a party in power that actually believes in the affirmative power of government to help its citizens, rather than the party that sees government’s role as protecting the property of the well-off from the predations of the underclass. It’s when the true ugly soul of American conservatism is borne out for what it is: a rationalization of selfishness and the hysterical denial of community. America is about to see what happens when the government is staffed by people appointed to their jobs precisely for their disdain for the whole notion of policy in the public interest. It’s won’t be pretty.