Until we get all the facts out, any assignment of the responsibility for the human component of this natural and human-enhanced disaster must have an air of tentativeness to it. Nevertheless, here’s how it looks right now.
Besides the universal condemantion of FEMA’s failures, much of the early sparring seems to be centered on the role of Mayor Ray Nagin. A series of posts at Sivacracy suggests that the Rove machine has picked on him to be their fall guy:
- Blaming the Mayor (in which the city is accused of having failed its role as a first responder)
- Rove’s Talking Points: Blame the Mayor (in which the WSJ comes up with a surprisingly similar argument, with the bonus that the governor is also to blame for FEMAs failure to anything since she didn’t send “a timely request for specific aid” — those guys at FEMA just can’t think for themselves, you see)
- Blaming the Mayor: Part 3 (looking into who is spreading this it’s-the-locals’-fault line)
Whoever is spreading this story — most likely a part of the larger disinformation campaign — from what I can tell (and we don’t have all the facts) it seems to be pretty much baloney. We have federal supremacy; we have FEMA because a locality devastated by a huge disaster has lost the ability to act as first responder and/or is likely to be overwhelmed. And it sure isn’t the case that FEMA couldn’t act without an instruction book from a mayor or a governor as to whether food and water and doctors were needed.
But that doesn’t make the local officials heroes either. This mayor — and past mayors — are not blameless for the state of the infrastructure. [Although it’s notable that the Bush administration slashed federal funds to strengthen the levees and then (I gather) raided what was left for another purpose–Iraq.] This mayor — like past mayors — is not blameless for signing off (weeks in advance) on an evacuation policy that was, at best, radically insufficient to meet the needs of the poorest and most helpless. And this mayor, at least in hindsight, seems to have waited a long time to order an evacuation.
Even after the storm, there have been a number of very ugly reports of local authorities either blocking the Red Cross, or acting like racist thugs.
Nor does it excuse the person who appointed the incompetents at the helm. Oh no, not at all.