It's the incompetence, stupid
Over the past week, George Bush has had almost every insult in the book hurled at him. Kanye West pretty much called him a racist, while other progressives contented themselves with the charge of elitism. But in the long run, the slur that is likely to stick and do the most damage is that of incompetence. Where cries of racism can be shrugged off as mere hysteria and those of elitism repackaged as just free-market economics, incompetence is one accusation that can bring down a Republican. As Bill Maher pointed out on his HBO show this weekend, conservatives pride themselves on their competence. Efficiency, productivity, results -- GOP buzzwords all.
Worse, the failure to deliver, so to speak, with Katrina calls into question the administration's competence in other areas, like, say, keeping America safe from terrorism. This is the guy that a majority of Americans trusted more than John Kerry to protect their kids from big, bad, bin Laden. Now it is clear, as Keith Olbermann put it on MSNBC, that this administration "cannot even protect its citizens from a biological terror called standing water." And needless to say, the aftermath of Katrina also underlines the White House's other great failure, Iraq.
Even red state Americans are unforgiving of such a sorry performance, especially when it reveals their beloved 'greatest country in the world' as grossly inept. Here's how Jonathan Freedland put it in The Guardian:
Finally, America will have to get over the shock of seeing itself in a new, unflattering light. It is not just the lawlessness, violence and gun culture that has been on show in New Orleans. It is also that America likes to think of itself as the "indispensable nation", the strongest, richest, most capable country on the face of the earth.
That belief had already taken a few blows. The vulnerability exposed on 9/11 was one. The struggle in Iraq - where America has become a Gulliver, tied down - was another. But now the giant has been hit again, its weak spot exposed. When corpses float in the streets for five days, the indispensable nation looks like a society that cannot take care of its own. When Sri Lanka offers to send emergency aid, the humiliation is complete. [LINK]Freedland also wonders if the disaster will shake Americans' faith in "small government" conservatism:
For 25 years, the dominant US ideology has been to shrink the state. "Government is not the solution to our problem," declared Ronald Reagan. "Government is the problem." ...
Mr Bush personifies that ideology with more vigour than anyone since Reagan. Yet now, after Katrina, the national mood might alter. Americans have seen where small government leads. ... It is conceivable that Americans will now call a halt to their quarter-century experiment in limited government - and the neglected infrastructure that has entailed. There are some tasks, they may conclude, which neither individuals nor private companies can do alone - and evacuating tens of thousands of people from a drowning city is one of them.Is he on to something? Maybe not the die-hards like Kellyanne Conaway who, according to a reader, proposed privatizing FEMA on MSNBC. But there is a chance that a good number of Americans will change their mind at least a little, and Katrina will mark the moment when the national pendulum started to swing back to the left -- that is, if we get very, very lucky.