[T]he federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming? …The real question is: when will the backlash against Bush set in? When will the country finally wake up? When will we realize that we've been spending $80 billion a year to help Iraq (not counting the military costs) while we have been shortchanging our own welfare. Will the good citizens of the red states ever wake up to this outrage, or are they in terminal denial?
[T]he undermining of FEMA began as soon as President Bush took office. Instead of choosing a professional with expertise in responses to disaster to head the agency, Mr. Bush appointed Joseph Allbaugh, a close political confidant. Mr. Allbaugh quickly began trying to scale back some of FEMA's preparedness programs.
You might have expected the administration to reconsider its hostility to emergency preparedness after 9/11 - after all, emergency management is as important in the aftermath of a terrorist attack as it is following a natural disaster. As many people have noticed, the failed response to Katrina shows that we are less ready to cope with a terrorist attack today than we were four years ago.
But the downgrading of FEMA continued, with the appointment of Michael Brown as Mr. Allbaugh's successor.
Mr. Brown had no obvious qualifications, other than having been Mr. Allbaugh's college roommate. But Mr. Brown was made deputy director of FEMA; The Boston Herald reports that he was forced out of his previous job, overseeing horse shows. And when Mr. Allbaugh left, Mr. Brown became the agency's director. The raw cronyism of that appointment showed the contempt the administration felt for the agency; one can only imagine the effects on staff morale.
That contempt, as I've said, reflects a general hostility to the role of government as a force for good. And Americans living along the Gulf Coast have now reaped the consequences of that hostility.
The administration has always tried to treat 9/11 purely as a lesson about good versus evil. But disasters must be coped with, even if they aren't caused by evildoers. Now we have another deadly lesson in why we need an effective government, and why dedicated public servants deserve our respect. Will we listen?
And terminal it may be for the future of this country if we continue along our current path of denigrating science and public service in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy.
Will history look back on the Bush administration as the time when the only remaining super power became an also ran?