Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Katrina Reference

Responding to the Republican response, delivered by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, to the president's address of last night, Paul Krugman wrote:

So what did Bobby Jindal choose to ridicule in this response to Obama last night? Volcano monitoring, of course.

And leaving aside the chutzpah of casting the failure of his own party’s governance as proof that government can’t work, does he really think that the response to natural disasters like Katrina is best undertaken by uncoordinated private action? Hey, why bother having an army? Let’s just rely on self-defense by armed citizens.

Krugman, as with numerous Democratic and non-partisan pundits, was in part doubting the logic of a Republican politician citing as a failure of government the response to Hurricane Katrina, fouled up by George W. Bush- and which many believe started the stature of his presidency in a downward spiral. For instance, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann commented (video below) "a Republican invoking the lessons of Hurricane Katrina seems counter-intuitive to me." Jindal stated:

Today in Washington, some are promising that government will rescue us from the economic storms raging all around us.

Those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina -- we have our doubts.

Let me tell you a story.

Jindal then went on to tell a self-congratulatory story of dubious veracity, but the reference to Katrina appeared to undermine the GOP's claim to run government better than the opposition. As MSNBC's Keith Olbermann put it, "a Republican invoking the lessons of Hurricane Katrina seems counter-intuitive."

But hold on. While any sensible person would see that the local, state, and federal governments needed to act preemptively to forestall a disaster of such enormous proportion, the Louisiana Governor was not aiming his comments primarily at sensible persons, but rather to the powers in and about the Republican Party which could impede or facilitate a presidential candidacy he is no doubt contemplating. And to them, the lesson of Hurricane Katrina may not be the dangers of a passive or disinterested government, but of government itself.

The patron saint of the Republican Party, Ronald Reagan, stated "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." The Repub fight is not against incompetent government or even big government; it is against government itself. As Thomas Frank wrote (pp.32-33) in early 2008 in The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, from the era of the Reagan presidency through the present

conservatives have held either executive or legislative power over the very state that is their first article of faith to despise. The big government that they rail against is, by and large, their government.

For a political faction to represent itself as a rebellion against a government for which it itself is responsible may strike you as a supremely cynical maneuver. If so, you are beginning to understand conservative Washington. Cynicism is of this movement's essence. It is cynical not only in the way it wriggles about, denying everything, dumping its former heroes, endlessly repositioning itself; but more fundamentally, it is cynical about the very possibilities of improvement through government.

Frank quotes Reagan as "claim(ing) to find terror in the phrase "I'm from the government and I'm here to help;" former House Speaker Tom DeLay as boasting "by the time we finish this poker game, there may not be a federal government left, which would suit me just fine;" and conservative humorist P.J. O'Rourke as saying "the mystery of government is not how Washington works but how to make it stop."

This applies even to those times, such as when Hurricane Katrina struck, that the Repub Party controlled the executive branch and the legislative branch (as well as most of the judicial branch). Government, Frank notes, "is said to be an offense against nature, a force entirely at odds with civil society." And if by raising the specter of the Bush presidency (without mentioning GWB himself), Bobby Jindal- and by extension the party he represents- demeaned the Chief Executive, the President of his own party, Mr. Bush is viewed as merely collateral damage.

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