It has been three years since Hurricane Katrina destroyed a large portion of New Orleans and the Louisiana coastline, and, up until Monday, it looked as though it would happen again.
This time New Orleans got lucky. But up until Gustav sideswiped the city, old fears surrounding the government’s ability to handle natural disasters were again brought to the national consciousness.
The common belief is that Katrina became a disaster because of gross negligence and incompetence from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Bush administration. This, of course, is correct. Diverting money from levee repairs to fighting in Iraq is the exact opposite of what good government does; government is supposed to protect its citizens from disaster, as opposed to creating disasters in other countries.
However, there is another angle that many people overlook regarding this tragedy. So much of the harm caused by the storm could have been prevented had people taken more responsibility for their actions.
We, as Americans, have fallen into a situation in which we tend to rely on the government to solve all our problems for us. If you don’t have insurance, the government will pick up your hospital tab, if you don’t save for retirement, there’s food stamps and social security for that.
People have completely unreasonable expectations of what the government is able to and will do for them. The government makes grand promises and routinely fails to deliver.
For instance, since hurricanes are in the news, let’s look at hurricane preparedness in New Orleans. Hurricane preparedness became a key issue in 1965, after the destructive rage of Hurricane Betsy killed 76 people in Louisiana and became the costliest hurricane in American history to that point. In response to Betsy, a system of levees was built to withstand a category three hurricane, which experts thought was the strongest storm the city might face.
Of course, the infamous Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans as a category three storm. Did the levees hold up? Even though they were designed to survive a storm of Katrina’s strength, there were still more than 50 breeches and failures of the levees. The levees needed repair, but key funds needed to keep the levees strong were diverted for the Iraq War.
To place all the blame on Bush is to grossly misunderstand the situation, however. The Democratic mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, failed to follow the city’s evacuation plan. Due to his poor management, there were far fewer city vehicles than necessary for the evacuation of the disabled, poor, and elderly out of the city, stranding thousands in the squalid Superdome.
Another Democrat, the governor, deployed the National Guard far too slowly, allowing rioting and violent crime to take hold in New Orleans. FEMA, run by Republicans at the time, also takes a large amount of blame. Its director, Micheal Brown, admitted that FEMA was unprepared for the storm saying, “There was no plan.”
The point in all this is not to blame any individual or political party. The problem with government is that it is run by normal people — and normal people have faults.
We cannot expect perfect leadership out of imperfect leaders. Relying on the government to care for and protect you is pure foolishness. Your parents, most likely, made a lot of wrong choices raising you, yet they care infinitely more for you than the government does.
All key government players failed in their public duties during Katrina, yet many of you still trust the government to run a universal health care system, our schools and our retirement planning. Building a levee is simple compared with teaching a child or caring for the sick.
As Hurricane Gustav hit New Orleans, the levees were still unprepared and were in worse repair than when Katrina hit three years ago. For this reason, it is fortunate the brunt of the storm dodged the city.
The mismanagement of hurricane preparedness in New Orleans has been an ongoing bipartisan failure, so when you vote this November, remember that politicians aren’t perfect or all-powerful. It doesn’t matter who you vote for — McCain, Obama, nor anyone else will be America’s savior.
Ian Bezek is a sophomore economics major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.