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Katrina: A Test of Conservatism

The cataclysmic Katrina Hurricane struck the Gulf Coast a long time ago. Since Bush was awakened from his slumber several days after the hurricane hit, he has gone back to the Gulf Coast at the rate of once a week for a photo opportunity. He made many promises. But he is doing nothing because he does not know what to do and still stick to the major conservative principle of self-reliance. Even Republicans are complaining about the lack of progress. Katrina has presented Bush with a test of the practical value of conservatism.

During Bush's photo opportunities, he promised

"One of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen"


"Our goal is to get the work done quickly."

What is happening? Bush has offered no legislation. The Army Corps of Engineers is proceeding with a plan of its own. Several legislators are discussing what to do. Some want a special agency to be responsible. Some seek a "czar" to take charge of rebuilding. But Bush is taking his time. On NBC's Today Show, he said:

"I recognize there's an attitude in Washington that says, 'We know better than the local people.' That's just not the attitude I have."

A few prominent Republicans react:

Rep. Richard H. Baker urged action because: "Where once you had an operating society, now there's nothing — no firetruck, no school, no grocery store to buy a loaf of bread."

Stuart M. Butler, of the Heritage Foundation:
"The president put out some very large ideas, but the administration isn't leading on them in any very public way. There's been a general hands-off approach, which is disturbing."

Jack Kemp, supply-sider and laissez faire promoter:
"Laissez-faire, Darwinian capitalism is not going to work here. Markets do work, but they need the direction of government in situations like this."

I especially love what Kemp said. Markets are OK. But we have here a situation that is so big and so serious that we need action by government.

Just because government takes the lead does not mean that "government knows better than the local people," as Bush said. Being a leader does not mean that you think you are better than others or that you should impose your ideas upon others or that you should control those you are leading.

No, imposing his view on others is Bush's way of leading. This is terrible leadership. We can see the result of this type of leadership in Iraq, in Plame-gate, in the UN - all around the world where America's reputation is in tatters. A poem by the great philosopher Lao Tzu describes leadership:

"The bad leader is one who the people despise
The good leader is he who the people praise
The great leader is he who the people say:
'We did it ourselves.'"

According to Bush, either you as an individual do it yourself or the government tells you what to do. He is wrong because good leaders are not controllers. And good leaders are needed in government to help pull us out of catastrophes such as Katrina. No person, no business, no city, no state is big enough to do the job. This makes the job a government job. We must have a leader, not a "czar," to lead the effort.

Bush's conservatism is not meeting the pragmatic test.

Posted by Paul Siegel at October 17, 2005 6:05 PM