The political legacy of Katrina

With natural disasters, there is a logical progression, a hierarchy, to the response. It goes from local to county to state to region to national, with the order determined by those who are closest and most familiar with the area afflicted to those more removed — but have access to greater resources.

In the case of the Greensburg, Kansas tornado, the local response was largely moot, as the whole town was pretty much destroyed. The county did what it could, but it quickly became apparent that this was something that needed the attentions of the state — and beyond.

Kansas’ governor, Kathleen Sebelius, responded in much the same fashion as Governor Blanco of Louisiana did after Katrina: blame the Bush administration. The state’s National Guard was unable to respond as effectively as it could because of its involvement in the war in Iraq.

This time, though, the Bush administration was prepared. They immediately answered her charges with facts, spelling out just what equipment and staffing the Kansas Guard had on hand, just what Governor Sebelius had requested from the federal government, what the federal government had already provided (which was above and beyond what she had requested), and what more they intended to do.

And the response to Sebelius did not slow one whit of that response.

The fundamental principle here, politics aside, is that the federal government is not — and should not — ever be the first responder to disaster. It’s too big, too remote, too inefficient. It should always be the lowest level of government that responds, that coordinates, that runs the whole shebang. They are the most familiar with the area, the people, and the circumstances. The higher officials should — and do — place themselves at the disposal of these lower officials, giving them the resources they need, as requested.

And the whole notion of finger-pointing and assigning blame should be held off until after the crisis has passed.

Nice try, Governor Sebelius. But I’m afraid that Governor Blanco already used the “blame Bush” tactic, and that’s the sort of thing that tends to not work well more than once.

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