Thursday, April 27, 2006

FEMA Drowned in Bathtub

What Kevin Drum says.

Crippled by years of poor leadership and inadequate funding, the Federal Emergency Management Agency cannot be fixed, a bipartisan investigation says in recommendations to be released Thursday.

....Describing FEMA as a "shambles and beyond repair," [Republican Senator Susan] Collins said the overall report "will help ensure that we do not have a repeat of the failures following Hurricane Katrina."

This is truly remarkable. FEMA was a fine organization for eight years under Bill Clinton, widely recognized as one of the best run agencies in the federal government. But after a mere five years of George Bush's stewardship there's now a bipartisan consensus that it's so rundown that the only choice is to get rid of it and build a completely new agency in its place. Astonishing.

It's hard to put into words the true scope, the level of utter malfeasance embodied in this administration's--and this Congress's--Katrina debacle. Combine an administration led and staffed by people ideologically opposed to government service and crony-hires committed to savaging the previous administration and prepping for the next contract payoff with a Congress more concerned about flag-burning than bureaucratic oversight, and you get the drowning of a major American city, the death of over 1,300 people, most of them poor and black, and the demolition of a critically important and once highly respected government agency. All of this would have been awful enough even if 911 had never happened. But given what the administration's apologists claim is a threat dire enough to warrant the surrendering of our most basic civil liberties, the failure, if not purposeful strategy of crippling one of the most critical departments responsible for meeting that threat is truly stupifying.

But it would be a mistake to cast the Katrina-FEMA catastrophe as only a Bush, or even just a Republican Party failure. The cause goes much deeper than that. It symbolizes the effects of radical conservatism, from the war-mongering neocons to the hate-filled minions on talk radio and cable TV, to the Christian Reconstructionists who only want the government to criminalize abortion, gays and non-Christian worship. The conservative movement's forty year quest for power has born its worst, worm-infested piece of low-hanging fruit. It's aim for over forty years has been the destruction of the government's ability to respond to the needs of the vulnerable. And through FEMA and Katrina, it succeeded.

If Democrats want to make this an issue in the 2006 elections--and I obviously believe they should, as should any thinking or caring individual--they shouldn't pin it all on George W. Bush, who despite his failings is more of a symbol than driving force of conservatism's bankrupt politics. Democrats should point to the main culprit--radical conservatism itself. One of its main organizers and ideological enforcers, Grover Norquist, has stated that he wished for the Republican Party to shrink the size of government till it could be drowned in a bathtub. He and his elected partners have succeeded, in the case of Katrina, all too well.

Republicans have spent the last four decades laying the blame for every disaster, personal tragedy and negative statistic at the door of Liberalism. Democrats have been reluctant to respond in kind, partly because the GOP has so skillfully made liberalism a byword while elevating its own label to "third-rail" status. If Democrats want to recapture the majority, both in government and in the country at large, they will have to, sooner or later, begin the arduous but necessary task of challenging the radical conservative underpinnings and rhetorical labeling of the opposition. And the continuing aftermath of Katrina is as good a point as any to begin that process.

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