Thursday, September 15, 2005

Liberalism's Storm

Watching the Roberts confirmation hearings on television, and watching the improbable political spin machine of senators and now, expert witnesses (e.g., one witness "expert on women's economic issues" who began her testimony in support of Roberts's nomination by saying something like "The Reagan administration was tremendously beneficial to women's progress" -- I'm paraphrasing), I've started thinking more about the political consequences of the last big news story -- Hurricane Katrina -- and I've been struck by how consistently the political ramifications of Katrina support the liberal position. This isn't, in my opinion, just a matter of the facts, but also a remarkably relentless, wide, and consistent effort by liberal advocates and sympathizers to get the message out. Meanwhile, conservatives and the Republican party have had an unprecedented breakdown in their message-machine, either mis-stepping or failing to act in a timely manner.

Here's a short list (let's make it a Top Ten) of the issues that American liberals have been raising for the duration of the Bush administration (if not long before) which now, because of Katrina, are getting extensive treatment in the press and at the dinner table:

1) Poverty
2) Racial inequality and discrimination
3) Security failures
4) Oil dependence
5) Global warming
6) Budget/Tax insufficiencies
7) Environmental protections
8) Incompetence/Indifference of political leadership
9) Personal/political cronyism
10) Big vs. small government

Note that out of all of these issues, only the last is a genuine point of debate between liberals and conservatives, mostly because it's a point of debate within both liberalism and conservatism. But let's backtrack. What's particularly astonishing about the other nine issues is not just how closely they support either bedrock liberal positions or particular complaints about the Bush administration, but how feeble if nonexistent the conservative defense has been.

For example, planned tax cuts have been temporarily shelved and there's been a growing call to repeal the Bush tax cuts or raise taxes in some other manner in order to finance disaster relief and rebuilding in the wake of Katrina. There was a similar call when recession hit in 2001, after Sept. 11, and concurrent with the war in Iraq. In each of these cases, Republicans were quick to defend the tax cuts as economically necessary, even as the budget deficit grew and grew. But now, those defenders have been silient, and even Bill Frist is saying that he wouldn't rule out a tax increase in the near future.

The big government/small government debate is the most interesting, since it finds liberals and conservatives taking both sides, albeit in different ways. Occasionally the same writer will seem to take opposite sides: David Brooks originally compared the political storm over Katrina to the natural disasters and resultant public works projects and increased governmental action that eventually led to the New Deal; in a column a week later, he argued that Katrina actually demonstrated the limits of government. Ooookay. But maybe you can hold both positions at the same time -- arguing, for example, that the government can't do much to prevent hurricanes (some of the sillier global warming ==> Katrina theories seemed to hold Bush personally responsible) but that it should exercise its powers more optimistically in areas it can act in. All in all, it's an interesting political moment, and one that bears watching in the weeks and months as Katrina begins to recede from present memory into the more settled past.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tim--I'm doing my much-needed monthly catching up of your blog./P I would add an eleventh to that list: the Department of Defense re-labeling itself as the War Department./P The federal government’s apparent reluctance to insert the military into a civilian disaster points towards new definition of (or misinterpretation of) the role of the military/Department of Defense. (This issue, I believe has only been glossed over in lieu of other, less damning, problems -- seriously, how many helicopters –to pluck folks off of their roofs- does FEMA own? I can sure think of one group that has the keys to flocks of Blackhawks. How many busses -able to slog through 3 feet of water- can FEMA (or a city government) rent to evacuate an arena? I doubt many, but I know of convoys of camouflage-painted transport trucks that are only one base away.) /P Government’s most basic roles are to protect (i.e. “Life, Liberty”) and then minimally provide for (i.e. “and the pursuit of Happiness”) its people (or arguably -for roughly one-half of us- at least the voting populace)—needs that were clearly exhibited both before and after the hurricane. The military - by nature of its size, organization and resources- is the most tangible vehicle a government can use to quickly react (imperative during and following a disaster) and fulfill those roles. Issues of states’ rights complicate the role of the military – but in the end, the (federal) government’s self-imposed requirements to protect and provide should trump all other issues. /P However, Rummy’s Department of Defense (to which -interestingly- the title “Department of Homeland Security” is redundant) has seemingly moved (or been moved) away from one of its roles: a reactionary vehicle inside its own country, and proactively towards a get-them-over-there-before-they-get-us-over-here mindset (i.e. Iraq), which more accurately is offensive rather that defensive (as its own title would...suggest) in nature. (…Again, interestingly -but not surprisingly- the old, well-accepted sports adage “the best offense is a good defense” runs opposite of this ideology). Whereas, a true department of defense would be more likely to stay at home to protect from and react to events both manmade and natural (i.e. more of our boots on our own soil) and provide for (i.e. an adequately supplied Corps of Engineers) its citizens, the current Department of Defense is more apt to ignore these responsibilities, instead advancing a new (or re-emerging) belief that raising hell in other countries will prevent hellraising in this country (occasionally under the guise of policing the world per a U.N. resolution). …Just how does this proactive get-them-before-they-get-us approach apply to protection from a hurricane? ...Just how do you prevent Mother Nature from raising hell on us? ...Are we going to take the fight to her in her own backyard …smoke that evil-doer out of her lower-atmospheric foxhole?/P…It could be all of this or maybe it was as simple (and just as plausible) as Bush (and/or his backseat drivers) being asleep at the wheel./P ---S. Karwan