Tuesday, September 06, 2005

More Sandbagging, Less Flamethrowing

In 1994, the Kansai International Airport in Japan was opened. What’s unique about this particular airport is that it was built in Osaka Bay, on a man-made island of landfill almost 4 km from shore. While it is a marvel of engineering, it’s just one example of how man has become increasingly proficient at shaping nature to serve our need. As the events in New Orleans have shown us, however, nature isn’t ruled by the will of man and with a force that is both awesome and devastating, it will eventually revert to its original form.

There are many understandable reactions when nature snaps back and slaps us in the face: humility at its awesome power, sadness over the death and destruction left in its wake, and resolve to pick up the pieces and to once again find the joy in life. A less understandable reaction, one that is born both of arrogance and pettiness, is hatred. Unfortunately for some, in trying to make sense of a tragedy that is firmly rooted in the laws of nature, the desire to direct blame and inflict political damage is a every bit as strong of force as a Category 5 hurricane.

Today's editorial page in the SJ-R was filled with letters that prove the partisan hostility in this country knows no bounds. No indiscretion is too small to not warrant condemnation. No mistake or miscalculation is ever made that wasn’t the result of a malicious intent. And no tragedy has ever befallen that isn’t in someway tied to the lack of intelligence, corporate interests, loose morals, or indecisiveness of whoever is sitting in office and happens to have the wrong letter next to his name. While tragedy carries with it an opportunity to come together for the common good, some insist on using it to create a deeper divide.

While the political climate in this country continues to degenerate, it is all the more amazing when our leaders are able to overcome their differences and work together. That George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton can put aside any past animosity to join in a common appeal for assistance is a testament to their sense of decency and genuine concern. Perhaps they are only allowed to do so because, as retired statesmen, they are no longer beholden to the next election cycle. But that too is an indictment on our two-party system. Our leaders are elected to serve, that don’t serve to get re-elected. And as citizens we should encourage them to work together and not feed the beast by encouraging their antagonistic ways with our own backbiting behavior.

That it is not to say that we should shrug our shoulders at whatever failings may have occurred both in preparation for or response to Katrina. It seems obvious that terrific mistakes were made at all levels of government, all the way up to the president. But these mistakes should be identified with an eye towards preventing them in the future. What purpose does is serve, during a time when everyone should unite, to throw them about like daggers in hopes of piercing someone who is assumed to lack your own compassion? There will be a time to deal with incompetence, now is the time to deal with tragedy.

Yes, experts have warned that New Orleans would be vulnerable to such destruction as the result of a strong hurricane. But would those levies had been any higher if John Kerry were in office and we were out of Iraq? Would they have held up better if Katrina had struck in 1995 rather than 2005? I guess we will never know, but to assume that they would have is more partisan fanstasy than critical analysis. If this were 1995, the only thing that we can be sure would have played out differently is that conservatives would have branded Katrina a hurricane scorned by that vile and philandering Clinton.

Experts have also warned that planet earth could be completely decimated by a giant asteroid. And should that fateful day occur, we can be sure that somebody somewhere will expend their final few moments as a member of a soon-to-be-extinct species to pen a letter-to-the-editor about that idiot in the White House.

Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune has a good analysis of this issue.


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Marie said...

That's sound advice that we can all benefit from, Dan. I can't remember a time I didn't later regret "flying off at the handle," whether I was right or wrong.

More and more I hear about this divide of which you speak. But, for me the divide exists between us (citizens) and them (the politicians of all parties). They are in charge, and we are at their mercy.

When we see those in power fail in some way, big or small, it is so hard to resist the urge to let them have it with both barrels. And then sit back, smugly, with our arms folded over our chests and insist they make it right. Does that make the process better, or impair it? I don't know.

Dan M. said...

I have been waiting for an opportunity on this topic, so here it goes.

Consider the following scenario;

The City of N.O., the State of LA., and the Feds spending millions to get people in place prior to Katrina getting there (an amazing feat in only three days notice) only to have her drift off course and N.O. is spared. Who do you think takes the heat for "over-reacting" and wasting money that could have been used for one cause or the other? I'll tell you who, any Republican in sight.

What if the floodwalls had not been breached? The damage would not have been anywhere near what it ended up being. Who knew for sure that it would happen? The answer; no one.

As for the "slow" response from the Feds, how can anyone expect the military to respond with thousands of troops and supplies into the ravaged area when it is equally hard just to get the survivors out with nothing but the clothes on their backs? They are not magic. Mass mobilizations take time. Understanding the exact magnitude of the disaster took time. I understand that when you are stranded on a rooftop fearing for your life minutes turn into hours. But when reasonable people look at the big picture they must conclude that there is not much more that could have been done any earlier than it was.

Sure, there are some instances where if bureaucrats had some guts and intelligence, some of the victims may have been spared some grief. But guess what? That's government for you at ALL levels. Why is anyone surprised at this? I would love for government to run more efficiently but how likely is that? It is a monster many have tried and failed to tackle through the ages.

The most glaring area of fault that I can find is again in ALL levels of government. It appears that they allowed this event to happen without having a comprehensive plan to look to as a guide while knowing that this was a distinct possibility. However, with a disaster of this magnitude I'm not convinced that a plan would have made much difference at all.

Sometimes bad things happen that we must deal with. Period.

Your next blog should focus on the asinine accusations that racism fueled any failures to act and what roll the media played in fueling that perception.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Although I think everyone will agree that more should have been done, you're right that it seems to be a bit wide-eyed to expect government to have reacted swiftly and determinedly. There is simply no precedent that would lead one to presume good service from a gigantic bureaucracy. Sad, disappointing, but ultimately true.