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Louisiana leaders long on whining, short on leadership

Some pundits have pointed out that Louisiana complaints about the distribution of relief monies for the hurricane disasters, as well as federal reticence to do things such as pass homeowner insurance relief or commit to construct Category 5 capable levees for the state risk making the state’s politicians appear to be ingrates, if not crybabies. What most miss, however, are all the reasons why and a thorough explication of what is to come.

Elsewhere I have explained one cause is the general entitlement attitude concerning other peoples’ money often expressed by some of the states’ residents and many of its top politicians, married with a perceived lack of responsibility. Complaints emanating from its denizens thus make the state look petty, ungrateful, and irresponsible to the rest of the country, hardly a triumvirate of qualities to induce maximal aid giving.

Pettiness comes through when drawing comparisons with the how Mississippi seems to get more aid per capita adjusted for amount of destruction. These folks would do well to remember Matthew 20 and not question the generosity of the federal government to others. Even if the American people are the masters of the master, its Louisiana contingent comprises less than 3 percent of all Americans. Obviously, the state also appears as a bunch of ingrates when complaining about not getting enough when already having received tens of billions of dollars from the rest of the country’s taxpayers.

But what really damages the state’s case is this whining occurs within the context of downplaying the unfortunate fact that with many individuals and with the state as a whole that it did not do enough to prevent the widespread damage from occurring. Collectively, through state and local government’s failure to plan well, to follow plans, and to spend money wisely (throwing in here its representatives to national office) set up the New Orleans area for this catastrophe. (Even if the Army Corps of Engineers fell down on the job in some respects, that does not absolve state culpability.) Individually, people’s lack of common sense in having flood insurance also contributes.

Bluntly, had not human errors, many traceable back to state and local government, not occurred, the scale of destruction in Louisiana would have been much less than in Mississippi. We cannot forget that normal life in southern Mississippi did not involve living below sea level. To repeat (and restating this fact will hurt some feelings of some people in bad spots), common sense dictates that if you live below sea level, you buy flood insurance (even if the government tells you that you don’t have to; in that case, it should have been pretty cheap). To fail to do so and then to criticize the federal government for not doing enough to help those who failed to plan on this account defines chutzpah.

I also have noted previously that perceptions of the state leaders’ past performance in managing fiscal resources also has contributed to federal government wariness. The question about who actually is more corrupt, Louisiana, New Jersey, or some other place, is academic because the question isn’t who is worst, but whether Louisiana is bad enough. And nobody with a straight face can assert that Louisiana isn’t.

Finally, both of these factors play into the fact that a Republican-led federal government always will look askance a Democrat-run state. It’s not really partisanship but instead stems from ideological differences. Simply, because the liberalism on which the Democrats draw sustenance is so spectacularly wrong in understanding human beings and their natures, more responsible conservatives that comprise the Republican Party are less likely to trust that giving money with few or no strings to Democrat state leaders. They accurately fear that the inherent liberalism of these politicians will divert the money to uses that provide no real gains or solutions to the public policy problem, as liberals have demonstrated time and again. With its past populist attitudes, increased tolerance for corruption, intact good-old-boy political structure, and continued carping from some about the “unfairness” of aid allocation, Louisiana with its Democrat leadership provides little in the way of reassurance that will calm these fears.

This complex of attitudes argues that the optimal strategy for state politicians to grab larger handouts is not by whining, but by pledging not to repeat past sins, to change institutions to facilitate this, and to emphasize that an economically-vibrant Louisiana serves the interests of the entire nation. Of course, this means admissions of failure by these same people doing the whining in order to make the pledges of improvement credible. But humbling oneself comes as naturally to most Louisiana politicians as rooting for Ole Miss on the gridiron.

While doing so would provide the best chance to secure the most reconstruction dollars, it also would further erode the tenuous reelection chances of many of these individuals such as Gov. Kathleen Blanco who continues to deny her culpability while foisting blame onto others. Nonetheless, true public service does not constitute in doing what it takes to get reelected, but to improve the polity, and it disserves the state to act otherwise. Many of Louisiana’s “leaders” must come to understand that, on this issue, the more they whine, the less they lead.

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