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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The sound you hear...

... is the collapse of a philosophy, brought to it heels by the harsh light of day.

"Compassionate conservatives" continue to spread the spin that the fault for the post-Katrina mess rests at the state and local level, not with the feds. Most refuse to acknowledge, as this letter writer does, that Darth Cheney's chilling denunciation of the Democrats' ability to protect America is just as applicable to natural disasters as it is the manmade ones. Particularly when you have the kind of warning that precedes nature's wrath. (OK, and certain manmade ones too.)

And of course, there is the inevitable straw man -- liberals are refusing to focus on local mistakes. Not true, there were plenty. For example, why didn't either branch of government order the evacuation buses in when it would have made a difference? That is an egregious mistake and others will undoubtedly be revealed as time goes on.

The finger-pointing at the Negins and Blancos ignores some basic truths. Government is not a respected institution in Louisiana and it is starved of resources (including resources from Washington). An effective government (combined with a strong leader) can produce results while waiting for the federal response.

Exhibit A is one of my least favorite politicians -- Rudy Giuliani. But when it was on the line, he combined personal leadership, with state and local resources to hold the fort until the cavalry arrived.

The "compassionate conservative" argument also ignores the cold, hard fact that a disaster the size of 9-11 or Katrina is beyond the resources of the lower levels of government. The organization I work for needs to have a comprehensive emergency plan and it does. But there is little doubt in my mind that in the face of a disaster, it would be overwhelmed and we would need assistance from other sources.

And let's not forget that even most conservatives would agree the federal government, at bare minimum, has a responsible for keeping the peace and security. I'd say the "government should do only a few things, but do it very well" conservative argument looks shattered like glass in a wind storm.

Then there's the compassionate part, hanging out there for all to see like drapes on those shattered windows. First let's look at the how it has delivered on the social safety net promise that dates to the Reagan administration. At least these folks fared better than those who were abandoned by nursing home owners in nearby Chalmette.

Then there is the basic fact of life exposed so shockingly: there is a caste system left over from the Old South that has not gone away. Think about this statement, and remember he's talking about playing second fiddle to a "have."

"The New Orleans crowd came in and changed everything," said Chris Deshotel, 24, an employee at a financial services company who had placed an offer on a $165,000 house last week, only to be outbid by a New Orleans family who bought the property with cash. "I'm sorry about their situation, but I'm sorry about my situation, too."

More reflective of open-minded "compassion": "I don't consider anything that's got the word 'decadence' in it to be normalcy," Joey Durel, president of Lafayette City-Parish was quoted as saying in The Daily Advertiser, Lafayette's main newspaper in reference to a gay festival looking to move from New Orleans.

So much for compassion, the conservative mantra of responsibility and the vaunted social safety net. Anyone want to clean up this mess?

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