Saturday, September 03, 2005

Katrina, and the philosophy of Government

I've just come across two different posts that touch upon the same theme, and may help explain why so many liberals are so angry. One argument is the financial argument; that the Bush Administration has cut funding repeatedly that could have helped New Orleans build a stronger infastructure and in general better prepare for any natural catastrophe that may come it's way.

The second argument, which does somewhat encompass the first argument, is about the size and role of the Federal Government in general. The first post I came across on this topic is by Jeffrey Dubner. The post as a whole is a good read, but here is the relevant part, the part I want to highlight:

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.

The second post is by Nicholas Beaudrot via Ezra Klein's blog.

Over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Robert Farely points out the fundamental contradiction in Republican governance:

The Republicans have managed a nifty trick over the last twenty-five years. They have worked ceaselessly to make government less effective, while at the same time deriving political benefit from inadequate government.

It is a nifty trick, but it's starting to run out of steam. Even in the 2000 election, the GOP had started to tone down it's anti-government rhetoric; essentially, he promised the public the same government as the Clinton Era, only smaller and with a bigger tax cut . Yes, in the debates, he railed against the specter of big government medicine, but not with the vitriol of Reagan in the late 1980s. By 2004, Bush had stopped using the word "bureaucrat" and started talking about all the "hard work" of the government employees in Iraq.

That said, this is a point Democrats ought to make more forcefully: there's no reason for a party that doesn't trust government to be responsible for it. And it's their job to point out that "don't trust government" now means "don't trust the Republican Party".

Both posts touch upon the different visions that liberals and conservatives have for government. And indeed, the GOP is using this particular moment in time to push for the repeal of the Estate Tax (yes, the death tax), and president Bush, on WEDNESDAY, used a recess appointment to fill a top slot at the Justice Department.

From the right, we have heard, for some days now, predominately, that 1) looters should be shot on sight, that 2)those who did not leave (and some have said even those that could not leave... you know, the poor people they pass on the way to the Club) got what they deserved, that 3)New Orleans isn't worth rebuilding, that 4)the GOP should hold their next convention in New Orleans, even though it isn't worth rebuilding, and that 5) rescue and response are going quite well in Iraq -- woops, I meant New Orleans. The talking points sound so familiar sometimes.

The idea of the ownership society and the notion that the (Federal) Government is the problem, not the solution, that you're on your own, and if the disaster is too big for your local government to adequately prepare for, then that's what you get living near water, fault-lines, or tornado-prone fields, is all running through the mind of many Liberals who are seeing this disaster on television. This disaster is the very situation in which a strong Federal Government can play a part in to do good. Where Yes, your taxes are going to go to save the lives of the less fortunate in other states whose only crime in life was to be born into poverty. Where a fundamental notion of a positive government is composed of compassion for the less-fortunate, and providing a national infastructure to help those in their time of need.

We can however remove Humanity and Compassion from Government altogether, and just look at this disaster by the numbers. The rising costs of oil and gas, the costs of a major US port that is currently closed, the loss of jobs, of tourism... How much of this could have been prevented with a different philosophy of what Government can be? How do the preventative costs that could have saved New Orleans compare with the post-disaster costs? We are indeed all fundamentally entwined - just look at the rise of your local gas prices. What happens in one state effects the lives and communities of other states, and as much as many neo-conservatives dislike this idea, this interdependency is only going to become stronger in the future.

So what now? Lower taxes for the uber-wealthy? Weaken the Federal Government even more? Are we indeed, under the current GOP monopoly of the government, truly all on our own?


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