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Monday, September 01, 2008

Paul Krugman: John, Don’t Go

What's wrong with pictures and photo-ops?:

John, Don’t Go, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good. Three years after Hurricane Katrina, another storm is heading for the Gulf Coast — and this has given Republicans a reason to cancel President Bush’s scheduled appearance at their national convention. The party can thus avoid reminding voters that the last man they placed in the White House did such a heckuva job that he scored the highest disapproval ratings ever recorded.

Instead, Mr. Bush is playing Commander in Chief. On Sunday morning the White House Web site featured photos of the president talking to Gulf state governors ... while ostentatiously clutching a red folder labeled “Classified.” ...

Bushredfolder_2 What’s wrong with this picture?

Let’s start with that red folder. Assuming that the folder contained something other than scrap paper, is the planned response to a hurricane a state secret? Are we worried that tropical storm systems will discover our weak points? Are we fighting a Global War on Weather?

Actually, that’s not quite as funny as it sounds. ...[D]aily briefings on preparations for Gustav, which should be coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency ... have been coming, instead, from the U.S. military’s Northern Command.

It’s not hard to see why. Top positions at FEMA are no longer held by obviously unqualified political hacks and cronies. But a recent report by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security said that the agency has made only “limited progress” ... in its ability to coordinate the response to a crisis. So FEMA still isn’t up to carrying out its principal task.

That’s no accident. ... Simply put, when the government is run by a political party committed to the belief that government is always the problem, never the solution, that belief tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. ... Three years after Katrina, and a year past a Congressional deadline, FEMA still doesn’t have a strategy for housing disaster victims.

Which brings us back to the politics of the current storm.

Earlier this year Mr. McCain, as part of his strategy of distancing himself from the current administration, condemned Mr. Bush’s response to Katrina. If he’d been president at the time, he says, “I would’ve landed my airplane at the nearest Air Force base and come over personally.”

Um, that completely misses the point. The problem with the Bush administration’s response to Katrina wasn’t the president’s failure to show up promptly for his photo op. It was the failure of FEMA and other degraded agencies to show up promptly with food, water and first aid.

And let’s hope that Mr. McCain doesn’t jet into the disaster area in Gustav’s aftermath. The candidate’s presence wouldn’t do anything to help the area recover. It would, however, tie up air traffic and disrupt relief efforts, just as Mr. Bush did when he flew into New Orleans to congratulate Brownie... Remember the firefighters who volunteered to help Katrina’s victims, only to find that their first job was to stand next to Mr. Bush while the cameras rolled?

To be fair, Republican plans to deal with Gustav by turning their convention into a “service event,” perhaps a telethon to raise funds for victims, are a good idea. So is the Obama campaign’s plan to mobilize its e-mail list to send aid and volunteers. But personal, voluntary aid is no substitute for an effective public response to disaster.

What we really need is a government that works, because it’s run by people who understand that sometimes government is the solution, after all. And that seems to be something undreamed of in either Mr. Bush’s or Mr. McCain’s philosophy.

    Posted by on Monday, September 1, 2008 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (27)


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