The Democrats remain hell-bent on convincing the American public that they are unfit to govern. Having insisted after 9/11 on the establishment of a giant homeland security bureaucracy, they now are shocked to find that FEMA, having been placed within that bureaucracy, is too bureaucratic. So now some Democrats are demanding that FEMA be removed from the giant bureaucracy. Lacking anything serious to say about national security, the Democrats are treating us to the spectacle of chasing their tail while spewing venom against the president.
Let’s look back four years. Soon after 9/11, the Democrats, opportunistically doing what they do best, started a drum-beat in favor of a new and massive governmental apparatus. President Bush initially resisted, but soon realized that this was not wise politically. Moreover, because he’s a “big government conservative” the Democrats’ idea probably did not offend him deeply. Recognizing, at least, that the new agency shouldn’t just be a garden-variety bureaucracy, the administration sought flexibility in filling positions and firing employees. Under pressure from their union constituencies, the Democrats resisted, thus proving that, as unprincipled as the party is, it won’t let political expediency stand in the way of pandering to key special interest groups. The Republicans jumped all over this lapse of political judgment and used it to good effect in the 2002 election. Although their position was the correct one, it also contained a whiff of opportunism, as one would expect in an election year.
It’s not clear whether or to what extent the administration’s desire to streamline the giant homeland security department (or at least the administration’s commitment to making that desire a reality) survived the 2002 election. The various anecdotes we’ve been hearing about communications breakdowns during the response to Katrina don’t prove that the administration did a poor job setting up the department and/or integrating FEMA into its structure. Most conservatives understand that big bureaucracies will function quite imperfectly, especially under great duress, no matter what is done to try to prevent this. Moreover, many of the problems in New Orleans probably have more to do with the difficulties inherent in dealing with incompetent state and local governments than with problems within the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA themselves. Nonetheless, tough questions need to be answered on this score. The tragic events along the Gulf Coast offer us the opportunity to identify and (to the extent possible) iron out problems within the relevant federal bureaucracies.
A final thought. In a process not unlike the one that led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the Democrats and the 9/11 commission browbeat President Bush into reorganizing our intelligence operations so that previously autonomous groups such as the CIA now come under the jurisdiction of a new bureaucracy. I wonder how that’s working.
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