The federal government’s pathetic performance during the early days of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath should surprise no one who is familiar with recent history. It is the logical result of 25 years of Republican leadership that began with Ronald Reagan’s oft-repeated mantra in the 1980 presidential campaign: “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.”
Since that time, Republican presidential nominees and congressional leaders have recited variations on the same theme both on the campaign trail and after taking office. They have made it clear that they do not believe in government, and that their primary mission is the dismantling of the very government for which they have been chosen to serve and lead.
How many businesses hire employees who say in the job interview, “If you hire me, I will do everything in my power to put your company out of business?” It is hard to imagine the board of directors of a major corporation selecting a CEO who proclaimed dislike of that corporation and who promised to dismantle the corporation if chosen to lead it.
Yet, that is what Americans have been doing since the dawn of the Reagan era. And they have been getting exactly what they were promised---a weakened government that cannot perform its most basic duties to preserve, protect and defend the nation and its citizens. Even during the Clinton era’s eight year respite from Republican presidential rule, the Newt Gingrich-led Congress succeeded in stifling attempts to reinvigorate the federal government, even shutting the place down at one point and wasting a couple of years deflecting the public’s attention with the impeachment charade.
The ascension of George W. Bush to the presidency and the GOP to power in both houses of Congress, along with the party’s accompanying control of a majority of statehouses, has put our nation in a most precarious position. The New Orleans debacle is merely a microcosm for a much larger problem.
Because President Bush and his ilk have nothing but contempt for the very institutions they are supposed to be leading, they use their immense authority not for the benefit of the ordinary folks who elected them and pay their salaries, but for the benefit of their well-to-do friends and political pals. The directorship of FEMA is a classic and costly example.
When W strode into office, many of his cabinet and sub-cabinet level appointments amounted to choosing foxes to guard the various henhouses of the government. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency wasn’t considered important enough even for that type of appointment. Instead, the president selected Joseph Allbaugh, whose qualifications for the position were that he had been Bush’s campaign manager in the 2000 presidential campaign, as well as campaign manager and chief of staff during his tenure as governor of Texas.
Allbaugh directed the agency for two years before joining the list of former government officials using their contacts to make big money for themselves and their clients through “lobbying and consulting” firms. He was replaced by Michael Brown, who had been his deputy and general counsel. Brown’s principal qualification for that position was that he and Allbaugh had been college buddies; he had spent the previous decade as “commissioner of judges and stewards” for the International Arabian Horse Association.
Despite many years of warnings by officials, researchers and writers that the apocalyptic New Orleans hurricane scenario would definitely play out someday if specific actions were not taken to shore up the city’s natural defenses, the president, his FEMA director, and his Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, all asserted that “no one” could have foreseen what happened. It was the same excuse offered after 9/11. Just as then, the excuse belied the facts.
Ironically, it is the terrorists themselves who may give us a glimpse into the mindset of this administration and its congressional cronies. Think of this: The anti-modernist Islamic terrorists of 9/11 used that most modern of transportation devices, the jet airliner, to destroy one of the gleaming symbols of modernity, the World Trade Center, and to inflict a gashing wound in the body of modernity itself, American society.
The Republican leadership of the last 25 years has used the government that is supposed to be “of the people, by the people, for the people,” against those people to enrich themselves and their contributors. They have stripped the government of its ability to respond to the needs of its citizens, draining it of the funds necessary to perform its basic functions while running up massive debts that are owed by that same citizenry. They have sucked the government dry through tax cuts and giveaways for “them that’s got” while taking away basic services for “them that’s not.” They have succeeded in making Reagan’s ridiculous words a self-fulfilling prophecy.
copyright © 2005 Port Folio Weekly. Used by Permission.