Wrong Words at a Bad Time

Almost faster than the response of Coast Guard helicopters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Left mounted its attack on the Bush Administration. Nothing is too hurtful that it cannot be cynically exploited by the Left’s perpetual anger with President George W. Bush.

The very first critical barrage was that because of Iraq, there would not be enough National Guard troops to help out in the aftermath Hurricane Katrina. It turned out there are more than enough troops and that their experience in Iraq suited them to dealing with Hobbesian State that some areas of New Orleans had descended to under decades of Democratic Party leadership.

Then there was the instantly responsive Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. who raced to press blaming Hurricane Katrina on the Bush Administration’s failure to accept the Kyoto Protocol. Bush gets too much credit for this. After all, the Senate, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass a treaty, rejected Kyoto 93-0. There were a lot of Democrats included in those 93 votes.

Even given legitimate and thoughtful concerns about the effects of global warming, the association of any particular storm with a long-term climate trend is essentially unknowable and irresponsible. Moreover, if people like Kennedy had not vigorously opposed the extension of civilian nuclear power and if the US had developed nuclear power to the same extent as it is used in France for electricity generation, we would have exceeded the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions mandated by Kyoto. If we emit more common dioxide than we need to, the environmental Left is one reason.

Initial impressions of the response to the devastation pointed to lethargy on the part of federal authorities. Though this critique is apt, the more we learn about what happened after Katrina, the clearer it is that state and local officials may have been the key impediments to a more timely humanitarian response. Calls for evacuation came late despite accurate storm predictions. Once a mandatory evacuation order was given, state and local officials did not follow their own plans by evacuating hospitals and using buses to transport those without transportation to shelters on higher ground.

Immediately after the storm winds subsided and before portions of levies broke inundating streets and making them impassible, the Red Cross was trying to deliver truck loads of water and meals to the Super Dome and Convention Center in New Orleans. T hey were prevented from delivery by the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security. Apparently, the Super Dome and the Convention Center were “shelters of last resors” and Louisiana did not want to encourage people to stay there by sending supplies. In retrospect that was a grievous error. Indeed, it was the images of people suffering at those two venues that painted a picture of a city out of control.

There will undoubtedly be many investigations detailing mistakes made at all levels of government and by citizens themselves. Some mistakes will have been caused by inadequate systems in place, others caused by incompetence or stupidity. There will be political recriminations, as there should be. Politics, as cacophonous and chaotic as it is, is our collective way of sorting out issues.

However, when political recriminations unnecessarily and indiscriminately undermine public comity and exacerbate race relations they become destructive. Over time, the nation is healing from a long history that included slavery and racial discrimination. Scraping the scabs off such healing for political gain is despicable.

One might dismiss sharks trolling far off the mainstream like rapper Kanye West who asserted that the problems of getting aid to people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was because, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” What about supposedly responsible spokesman?

Never one to be rhetorically outdone, Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee argues that, “Race was a factor in the death toll from Hurricane Katrina¬Ö” Those who are economically better off will generally fair better in most situations and there remains too great a correlation between economic well-being and race. However, to focus on race at this point does not appeal to the better angels of our nature. It divides rather than unites and nurtures despair rather than hope.

Great challenges can reveal the nobility in people. New Orleans may arise from this catastrophe an invigorated city, united as a community, and better fortified against natural calamity. Ugly words will not help.

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