Grabbing the handle of the big broom
Posted by aogTuesday, 13 September 2005 at 15:40 TrackBack Ping URL

President Bush is accepting responsibility for the response to hurricane Katrina.

President Bush said Tuesday that “I take responsibility” for failures in dealing with Hurricane Katrina and said the disaster raised broader questions about the government’s ability to respond to natural disasters as well as terror attacks.

“Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government,” Bush said at joint White House news conference

I’m sure that many anti-Bush agitators are grinning at this admission, but I think Bush is playing a different game here. There are two threads to it.

The first is that, in comparison with other relief efforts, the post-hurricane Katrina response doesn’t look bad. In most ways it was better than other, similar efforts in the recent past. Moreover, I believe that it will become apparent soon enough that the effort lagged only in a single state and disastrously only in a single city with obvious culpability on the part of the locals. Taking responsibility for something that’s going to look good six months from now is a smart move. As they say in the stock market, you don’t make money from buying good stocks and hoping they become great, you buy lousy stocks that look like they’re going to become mediocre. That’s what Bush is doing and he is likely to reap a lot of profit from it.

The other thread is reminiscent of the formation of the Department of Homeland Security. One of the little things that wasn’t much noticed at the time is the associated changes in government work rules. That’s a battle that’s going on mostly unremarked but it is likely to have greater long term effects than anything else the DHS might do.

Now, this putative failure of the federal government to respond to hurricane Katrina — what could give Bush a bigger broom than taking personal responsibility and vowing to “fix” the problems? It sets Bush up to frame the problems and the solutions. It’s exactly the kind of moralistic posturing that enabled the MAL to get so much of their agenda through during their ascendancy. Of course, it will hurt Bush politically now but memories are short and the potential payoff for the rest of his term is quite large. For someone who’s shown a history of being willing to take risks for big prizes it’s almost a no-brainer.

P.S. Now, the one thing that worries me is the possibility that Bush will use this to further federalize an already over-federalized civil defense system. I am a strong propopent of civil defense devolution and regaining the idea of community self-reliance. If Bush’s “reform” is to sweep aside state and local civil defense for an enlarged DHS I reserve the right to throw a screaming hissy fit.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
pj Wednesday, 14 September 2005 at 17:01

I think Bush’s move is very astute. I disagree with your pessimism: it will help him now politically; and it will give Bush and the Republicans in Congress an opening to introduce more conservative, market-oriented reforms into the disaster-response area of the government. He is taking a lemon and making lemonade out of it - you have to acknowledge that something is wrong in order to ride the wave of public opinion to get a reform bill passed. It’s a political jujitsu - the liberal media has gotten the public all whipped up about this issue, now he can exploit it to move law and policy in a conservative direction.

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 14 September 2005 at 20:07

I certainly agree that Bush’s move could turn out to be astute. Of itself, it’s not much, just a gambit. Like the opening move of a good chess attack, it will require quite a bit of skillful playing later on, but none of that would be useful without the setup from this.

I presume by my pessimism you mean my concern that Bush will lean toward centralization rather than devolution. We will see.

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