Friday, April 28, 2006

the impotence of negativity

From AP:
A Senate inquiry into the government's Hurricane Katrina failures ripped the Bush administration anew Thursday and urged the scrapping of the nation's disaster response agency. But with a new hurricane season just weeks away, senators conceded that few if any of their proposals could become reality in time.
The senators concluded that only by abolishing the Federal Emergency Management Agency — which Sen. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record), R-Maine, called a "bumbling bureaucracy" — and replacing it with a stronger authority could the government best respond to future catastrophes.

Digby has an interesting take on this, specifically that such governmental failure is, in fact, the Republican objective, because it plays into the Reaganite "government is the problem" perspective. When bureaucratic structures fail, Republicans can stand over the ashes and rubble and proclaim that they were right: government is utterly unable to do anything effectively. Nevermind that in some of these cases (FEMA being one such case), these apparatus worked just fine until the Republicans came into power and sapped their funding, packed their leadership with cronies and sycophants, shoved them deep into the bowels of larger and clumsier bureaucracies, etc.

Though it is true that FEMA and other organizations were corrupted and stultified by Republican mismanagement, I don't know if I'm quite willing to jump off Digby's bridge and say that Republicans actually intended for FEMA to fail (though I do think you could say that about John Bolton's torpedoing of UN reform). Instead, it seems to me merely to be the natural consequence of hiring people to do a job who fundamentally believe that the job can't be done.

Let me explain. Supposedly there is a tactic used in Buddhism to figure out the answer to a problem. They try instead to remember it, because to admit that there may not be an answer is to succumb to the crushing, self-defeating power of despair. In the West, we call it "the power of positive thinking," or "where there's a will, there's a way." People have an uncanny, almost preternatural ability to prove themselves right, so if they engage upon a task that they honestly believe they cannot accomplish, odds are, they won't.

Reaganite Republicans do not believe that the government is capable of working effectively. For them to admit that it can, and often does (even including some of their biggest bogeymen, like Social Security and Medicare), would undermine their entire political philosophy. Is it any surprise, then, that they have been a failure at governing, that nearly everything they've touched in domestic policy, from Medicare Plan D to FEMA and Homeland Security to FDA administration to the budget has been a disaster?

History utterly refutes Collins and Lieberman's conclusions that FEMA is hopelessly broken and doesn't work: it was a smashing success and the crown jewel of American disaster relief agencies less than a decade ago. It's just never worked effectively under Republicans.

1 comment:

matt crosier said...

"Bumbling bureaucracy"? The phrase sounds like something you come up with while playing meaningless wordgames. The author of "bumbling Bureaucracy" is a pusillanimous pisant, for instance.
I am in complete agreement that abolishing FEMA is ridiculous. We can't get a new program going fast enough, and, well... starting a new program is really going to be little more than rechristening the old one. What exactly is involved in "scraping FEMA and starting over again"? Firing everyone, buying all new computers, changing the name over the door and then starting the whole thing up again, perhaps this time only with grads of Regent working there? (Don't mean to rag on any schools, just picking a name out of a hat to make a point.) Or is the rehtoric a shy way of saying the states should take care of themselves?
Aside from the sheer lunacy of "starting over" I would like to draw attention to the fact that destruction like we saw in New Orleans is more likely these days. Larger urban areas usually mean that somebody is building in a flood plain (sacramento much?) There are hundreds of large urban areas in the US with similar vulnerabilities. I posit that no state currently has the ability to take care of such massive problems on their own, whether because state's have become dependant on FEMA or not. I hate to sound the trumpet that congress needs to start actually fixing problems not just talking about them, but I don't know what else to say in this instance. Write your congressman and get them to fund FEMA so that we can have someone thinking up what emergecy situations might come up in the future and planning for how we can deal with them. Thanks for the food for thought big D.