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Friday, September 16, 2005

BUSH'S MOMENT: There's a wide consensus that Bush rose to the leadership occasion in the aftermath of September 11. I'm less sure about his response to Katrina. I just don't like where his compass seems to be pointing. Here I refer not to the slowness of the federal relief response, but to the president's rhetoric about rebuilding New Orleans.
"As we clear away the debris of a hurricane, let us also clear away the legacy of inequality," Bush said at the cathedral. Polls suggest a majority of Americans believe the president should have responded quicker to Katrina. High percentages of blacks tell pollsters they believe race played a role in the slow response by all levels of government.
Bush is sorely mistaken if he thinks the way to raise his standing in the polls — or to cement his legacy as president — is to suddenly morph into FDR. Among those who were most devastated by Katrina — the poorest of the poor — are those who were supposed to get better lives from America's anti-povery program, a series of initiatives that mostly fostered greater dependency and ignored the crucial teaching of life skills toward self-betterment. The idea of simply throwing more money at deep social pathology, in the name of "eradicating povery," is disastrously misguided. There's no doubt that real people experienced real suffering due to the relief delay. Let's also remember this was a Category 5 hurricane that didn't arrive like a thief in the night. A city that exists below sea level had several days' advance notice of the storm. That seems important to bear in mind. Above all, let's not buy into a mass-contrition experience based on some idea that the way to expiate the "sin" of our lack of preparedness is to throw massive money in the wrong directions with no real accountibility. If anything, maybe Bush should exercise even more than usual — if that would be a way to discourage him from frenetically committing himself to the wrong kind of athleticism toward a national tragedy. Try this: When in doubt, don't spend. Let's act with deliberation and social intelligence as we turn toward rebuilding New Orleans. For heaven's sake, we've got to be market savvy. Let's use enterprise zones and tax abatement wherever possible; let's definitely not add a new layer to the existing welfare state mentality. And of course, let's ensure that government and private charity join to help feed and house those in greatest need. That's what a safety net is for. Meanwhile, Tom Delay seems truly committed to abandoning the principles by which the GOP came to power in the House — cutting spending and reducing the size of government:
Declining calls to offset emergency funding with budget cuts, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay declared an "ongoing victory" in the battle against wasteful government spending. There's no fat left to cut, he said. Heritage Foundation budget analyst Brian Riedl disagrees. "There is so much fat in government spending that it is hard to know where to begin cutting," writes Riedl, who goes on to make some specific suggestions.