More Finger-Pointing, Please

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In a post below, Charles points out that it’s not inappropriate to play the blame game over Hurricane Katrina right now. I agree; in fact, it’s entirely necessary, and I’d like to see more of it. Consider this sentence buried at the end of a Times today, without elaboration: “Efforts to add backup power generators to keep them all running during blackouts have been delayed by a lack of federal money.” Okay, so let’s have dollar figures, figure out who’s responsible, and see how many people are affected, so that everyone can know how decisions in Washington can literally make a life-or-death difference. The hurricane will eventually fade from people’s minds; the time to draw the relevant connections is now. It’s possible to offer sympathy for those in New Orleans, donate to the Red Cross, and still figure out why this all happened.

The thing of it is, most of the time when Congress is fiddling with numbers in the budget, it’s impossible for voters to get any firm sense of where money goes, or how it actually impacts people’s lives in real and concrete ways. The Republican-run Congress knows this perfectly well; earlier this year, for instance, the GOP leadership held separate budget votes on cutting taxes and cutting spending, aware that if people got a sense for how tax cuts drain the public coffers, and a sense for where the money goes and how it actually affects real human beings, they might be a little less prone to aspersions cast on “big government” in the abstract. So it goes with Katrina. People need to know exactly how political decisions—like President Bush’s longstanding efforts to dismantle FEMA and stock the agency with political cronies—affect people, and that can best be made clear right now. It’s the only way to have any hope of getting the important policy questions right in the future.

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