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From Response to Responsibility

Every American has something to learn from Hurricane Katrina

In an unusual admission of government responsibility, the world watched last Tuesday as President George W. Bush admitted to at least some measure of responsibility for the Katrina response disaster. “Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government,” Bush said at a joint White House news conference with the president of Iraq. “To the extent the federal government didn’t fully do its job right, I take responsibility.” It was a rare moment of candid honesty from this otherwise shift-the-blame administration; but though it took far too long—and though the president’s subsequent Thursday public address conspicuously lacked this air of government humility—we are glad that the Bush finally made this formal recognition.

Whether at the local, state, or federal level—not to mention the many specific bureaucrats who have been exposed as corrupt or inept in the past weeks—no party involved can claim complete immunity to the charge of an altogether inappropriate level of function.

Claims made early on that no one could have predicted this calamity have been debunked; it was simply that no one had taken the initiative to spearhead the necessary changes. Michael D. Brown, the embattled former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director, is clearly one such specific individual whose guilt was exposed in the wake of the response. And, most importantly, the federal government’s shockingly slow and disorganized response to a disaster of such enormity is worthy of the strongest public reproof. With enough blame to spread all over, any attempt to spin it solely in one direction is misguided.

The blame may be hard to focus on any one party, but the lessons of Hurricane Katrina are all too clear. Since day one, as the nation scrambled to figure out just how to deal with this tremendous devastation, one thing became tragically clear: the nation’s lowest quintile had been inhumanely neglected. The resources to which the nation’s poor have access are logically fewer than those available to the well-off—thus appropriate measures should have been undertaken to ensure their safety. The neglect with which they were treated exposed deep and unacceptable inequalities fabric of our nation. The nation’s poor suffered as a whole; and we believe it is erroneous to suggest that the neglect ensued because of race.

In the end, however, it is important to remember that Katrina left no one unaffected. Rich or poor, every resident of New Orleans, not to mention Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and Alabama, was subjected to an indescribable tragedy. The only good that can come of this tragedy will be a lasting recognition by every American that, in the face of a natural disaster, we must always seek to aid those less fortunate than ourselves.

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