Search This Blog


Katrina +2: any political, governmental learning from it?

A lot of second-anniversary ruminations about the meaning of Hurricane Katrina will assault the public this week, but perhaps the most informative is Sally Forman’s account of events around New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. It further confirms that Nagin wasn’t particularly suited to handle such a catastrophe, that Gov. Kathleen Blanco regrettably reacted to it too much through a political lens, and of the exposure of the natural shortcomings of government.

She was Nagin’s press secretary and the wife of Ron Forman, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor against Nagin last year. She resigned from her position only at Forman’s announcement of his challenge.

Forman essentially paints a picture of Nagin familiar to those who have observed him these past five years, somebody who flies by the seat of his pants. It showed in the lack of planning the city had for such a disaster, and in Nagin’s tactically-oriented but strategically-bereft response to it.

Her account of Blanco also reiterates that she let politics get in the way of the optimal response to the emergency. As we now know from her internal correspondence, almost the minute the magnitude of the disaster became know, she began to interject political calculations into her decision-making process. Forman reviews the infamous episode where Blanco rejected federal assistance immediately because she thought it would look bad politically if she did not have full control over all military maneuvers.

Perhaps most instructive, however, is her reminder of the chaos of the situation which provides yet another reminder that while there are a few necessary things that government can accomplish, this situation was not one at which government could excel. The human condition is such that when conditions of distress exist, voluntary, private sector efforts always respond much quicker and better than does government (as in most human activities) because a collective, layered institution like government very poorly translates the strengths and weaknesses of individuals and resources available into rapid action. If we had had more people able like state Sen. Walter Boasso (who jumped on a boat and helped direct rescue efforts in St. Bernard Parish) to direct private, voluntary efforts than those like Nagin or Blanco trying to make an unwieldy, ill-suited beast like government respond, the situation would not have turned out as badly.

Even if many have fantasy attitudes about what government can do well (not much), where it would best respond in this circumstance is at the local level so Nagin still deserves most of the blame for a government response that turned out poor instead of inadequate, with Blanco at the next level up a close second. Over the next few days we will see much published about the affair and to fail to acknowledge these realities in them will demonstrate some have learned nothing from the entire unfortunate event.

No comments: