Broken Covenant

President George W. Bush has been rightly lambasted for the bumbling way in which he personally reacted to the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as well as for the inept federal response on the ground, especially the failures of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Even many of the president’s supporters think the criticism well deserved. Much of the human suffering following Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans was avoidable, and the failure of government—local, state, and federal—to protect citizens has shaken the nation’s confidence. Many of Bush’s longtime critics were quick to point out the parallel between the incompetence of the administration’s actions in Louisiana and the incompetence of its occupation and “reconstruction” of Iraq. In both cases, ideological loyalists and political hacks were put in charge, with predictable results. Bush’s conservative base has been preaching the alleged evils of government for more than a quarter-century. FEMA’s failures now make it clear that many within this administration simply do not believe that effective government is either desirable or possible. FEMA was a target of the administration’s antigovernment ideologues. Under Bush, the agency was subsumed into the Department of Homeland Security, its budget cut, and its administration turned over to political cronies with no experience in disaster management. When...

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