Point fingers at the right people in Hurricane Katrina

A. J. Atchue

Too many people in this country will turn any disaster or calamity into a national blame game. The latest example of this rule is Hurricane Katrina. The winds from Katrina had barely moved on from New Orleans before the disaster was turned into a fierce political issue by finger-pointing whiners.

Some of the criticism hurled at the federal government (read: Republicans and President Bush) has been so out of line that it’s barely even worth acknowledging. But seeing as coverage of this hurricane has been constantly on our televisions for the past two weeks, it merits a response.

First we have the loony linkages of peripheral events that critics claim could have been combined to both stop and respond to the hurricane. For instance, some have brought up Bush’s record on global warming and related it to Atlantic hurricanes. There is absolutely no relationship between the two, so that wacky suggestion should be dismissed out of hand.

Next, Democrats have cheerfully said that if we didn’t have so many National Guard members in Iraq, more would have been available for New Orleans. Well, an elementary math school student could have come to the same conclusion. When you start with a certain number of something and take some away, you have less than when you started. Of course the Guard members in Iraq couldn’t get to New Orleans. A more logical criticism would be that the Guard members that were in Louisiana moved to New Orleans at the pace of a snail.

Finally, people charge that if Bush hadn’t spent so much in Iraq and cut taxes to boot, more money would have been available for flood control measures in New Orleans. Yeah, right. I’m sure the alleged extra revenue would have been sent by express mail right to New Orleans instead of being spent on some new program. Besides, Katrina reduced to rubble the barricades that had already been constructed with federal money in the city.

In last Saturday’s New York Times, liberal columnist Paul Krugman compared Katrina to Iraq in this way: “The same deer-in-the-headlights immobility prevailed (in the Bush administration) as Katrina approached and struck the Gulf Coast. The storm gave plenty of warning.”

Sure, the storm gave plenty of warning. But that’s not a reflection on the federal government’s response. No one could fly to New Orleans, stand on the docks, and simply tell the storm to go away. Anyone who wanted to could see it was a category 5 hurricane barreling straight at New Orleans for days beforehand simply by turning on a television.

This was not a tornado or tsunami that came out of nowhere. Local officials, who should be the primary decision-makers for local events, had plenty of time to see Katrina coming. Thus, what the warning time really reveals is how utterly pathetic the city and state’s planning for the disaster was. It has nothing to do with the federal government. For most people, though, it’s more expedient to criticize the feds.

Let’s examine some real facts. One, the mayor of New Orleans should know his city and known what to expect. He waited until the day before Katrina hit to order an evacuation of the city. People should have started packing up and getting out of Dodge at least three days ahead of time, but the city’s mayor did not show the leadership to make this possible. And the mayor’s reason for holding off? He was afraid that if he ordered an unwarranted evacuation, city hotels and businesses would sue.

Once the storm hit, the Louisiana National Guard should have been in the city immediately for rescue purposes. It is the job of the governor, not the president, to dispatch the Louisiana National Guard, and they didn’t arrive on the scene for two days. Where they were before that is beyond me.

People were swimming through the streets, climbing onto roofs, and gathering in the damaged Superdome, where two large holes in the roof allowed rain to drench the already miserable citizens. The local response to this hurricane was disorganized and simply inept.

Instead, political opportunists are saying that Congress isn’t sending enough money because many of those impacted are poor and black. Kanye West said on a national relief telethon that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” How intelligent.

Katrina was a natural disaster of the utmost size. The real focus should be on the relief effort and getting New Orleans back on its feet. But if people instinctively must play the blame game, at least point fingers at the right people, not the most politically convenient.