Favorite

True, false -- or both? 

We make a basic mistake on many of our political questions. We couch them as either/or.

Was Kenneth Starr a partisan and abusive prosecutor or was Bill Clinton a chronic dissembler even under oath?

Actually, the best answer is yes, both.

Is the Bush administration widely failed at home and abroad or will the Republicans likely maintain congressional majorities in the midterm elections, and the presidency beyond?

Yes, both.

Now a debate percolates on whether our federal government failed so thoroughly and spectacularly after Hurricane Katrina because the key people were incompetent or because the organizational structure was bureaucratically impossible.

Again, we should not constrain ourselves artificially. The answer is yes, both. And it’s more.

Michael Brown was a self-aggrandizing, camera-hungry political hack wholly unqualified to run FEMA. Michael Chertoff earned his Republican points by which he became head of Homeland Security, thus overseer of FEMA, not with any expertise either in police or emergency management work. Chertoff earned them in 1993 as a partisan prosecutor for the Senate committee then headed by Al D’Amato that first tried to make something criminal of Clinton’s goofy and failed business investment in Jim McDougal’s Whitewater land scheme.

It has been equal parts outrage and comedy to watch Brown and Chertoff snipe at each other lately. Brown says he couldn’t do his job after Katrina because Chertoff ordered him to go to Baton Rouge and stay there. Chertoff responds that he told Brown to stay put because every time he looked up Brown was on television riding around with a politician.

For eight years in the 1990s, through floods, hurricanes and tornados, did anyone ever get a good look on television at James Lee Witt, the old boy from Yell County whom Clinton took to Washington to run FEMA?

Probably not. James Lee was busy, often at disaster sites on the phone with the president, to whom he answered directly.

So, yes, FEMA ought to be restored to cabinet level with a direct organizational link to the White House. FEMA does not fit in Homeland Security. Handling our defenses against terrorism and managing the aftermath of a disaster — these are entirely different things.

That raises another key factor — the president himself.

In the 1990s, a fellow setting up a relocation plan for disaster victims knew he wasn’t dealing with a bureaucratic maze or a camera-crazed political hack. He knew that when he was talking to Witt, he actually was talking to the man in the Oval Office.

Clinton has not been given enough personal credit, and, in turn, George W. Bush has not been assigned enough personal blame.

Clinton had the advantage of believing in government. He knew that government’s biggest test was when Mother Nature did her powerful number. He accepted that government bore the essential responsibility in such circumstances.

By making Witt answerable to him directly, Clinton wasn’t merely empowering Witt. He was investing his most precious resource — a personal political stake.

Compare that, then, to Bush, often a critic of government, vacationing on his ranch as winds ripped, waters raged and levees collapsed, flying over a scene of inhumane neglect merely to peer from an airplane window, responding with soulless recitations of numbers about packaged meals delivered, and, because he was insufficiently engaged to know better, extolling “Brownie” for his great job performance.

The lessons to be learned from Katrina won’t come from true-false questions. They’ll require the multiple-choice format, with “all of the above” an option.

We’ll need better people. We’ll need a more efficient and accountable organizational structure. We’ll need a man at the top who believes in government, and who’ll seize the buck and hang on to it.


Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by John Brummett

  • Obstruction is the preferred conservatism

    Is there greater conservative virtue in opposing federal health reform, period, or in saying it ought to be implemented locally instead of from Washington in the event we are unavoidably laden with it?
    • Oct 5, 2011
  • A fate not quite as bad as prison for Lu Hardin

    There is no crime in being overly and transparently solicitous for the purposes of aggrandizement and personal political advancement. That's simply acute neediness, a common and benign human frailty.
    • Sep 28, 2011
  • Can we talk? Can we get anywhere?

    Dialogue is good. It would be even better if someone would venture off script every once in a while.
    • Sep 21, 2011
  • More »

More by Max Brantley

Most Shared

  • Guest Playlist: Flap Jones of "Not Necessarily Nashville" schools us on real country music

    "Not Necessarily Nashville," which airs on KUAR-FM 89.1 every Saturday, 7 p.m.-9 p.m., celebrates three decades of the "best of the rest of country music" Saturday, October 21 at the White Water Tavern with Brad Williams of The Salty Dogs & The Creek Rocks, and we asked host Flap Jones to curate a playlist for us ahead of that anniversary celebration.
  • Discussion: State killing of the mentally ill

    The Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and others will have a forum on mental illness and the death penalty at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Bowen School of Law's Friday Courtroom.

Latest in John Brummett

  • Gone to the DoG

    We're now longer carrying John Brummett's column in this space.
    • Oct 12, 2011
  • Obstruction is the preferred conservatism

    Is there greater conservative virtue in opposing federal health reform, period, or in saying it ought to be implemented locally instead of from Washington in the event we are unavoidably laden with it?
    • Oct 5, 2011
  • A fate not quite as bad as prison for Lu Hardin

    There is no crime in being overly and transparently solicitous for the purposes of aggrandizement and personal political advancement. That's simply acute neediness, a common and benign human frailty.
    • Sep 28, 2011
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

October

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Caution: government at work

    • The people of Arkansas need to keep demanding that our state government be accountable to…

    • on October 21, 2017
  • Re: Cotton to CIA?

    • Watching C-Span last week, they were talking about Cotton for the head of the FBI…

    • on October 21, 2017
  • Re: The casting couch

    • sigh............ I would argue that the idea of 'freedom from fear' is part of the…

    • on October 19, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation