Expanding Federal Power: The Real Lessons of Hurricane Katrina: New Government Programs Mean Expanded Federal Powers and Increased Dependence on Government

By Yates, Steven | The New American, November 14, 2005 | Go to article overview

Expanding Federal Power: The Real Lessons of Hurricane Katrina: New Government Programs Mean Expanded Federal Powers and Increased Dependence on Government


Yates, Steven, The New American


Hurricane Katrina was in many ways a disaster of nearly unprecedented proportions for the United States. To be sure, we have suffered disasters before. San Francisco was heavily damaged by an earthquake and a fire in 1906. Chicago succumbed to a raging fire set off, according to urban legend of the time, by the unfortunate Mrs. O'Leary's cow. Galveston was destroyed by a hurricane in 1900. In terms of death toll, however, Katrina remains the worst natural disaster in American history.

Katrina, though, was special, if that word may be used to describe the horrendous damage wrought by the storm. It destroyed not only life and limb, but also damaged and shuttered much of the nation's critical energy infrastructure, caused the submergence and unprecedented abandonment of the one of the world's truly great cities (itself a strategically important port city), and obliterated, literally, communities throughout the region. The damage was so great, so terrible, that many questioned the very idea of rebuilding.

The tragedy of the 2005 hurricane season, though, is not confined to its immediate effects on lives and property. The unprecedented scale of disaster has created a similarly unprecedented opportunity for those who would seek to expand the power and reach of the federal government. The Bush administration, in fact, is now doing its best to emulate the left-wing socialism of a previous Texan administration, that of Lyndon Johnson. As Bush told the nation on September 15, his administration is planning not only to subsidize the physical rebuilding of affected areas, but also the social reconstruction of the region.

"When communities are rebuilt, they must be even better and stronger than before the storm," Bush said. (Emphasis added.) "Within the Gulf region are some of the most beautiful and historical places in America. As all of us saw on television, there's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action."

Before confronting any such problem, it is necessary to make a clear-eyed evaluation of the situation. This, of course, is not being done by the Bush administration in its overbearing eagerness to recreate the Johnson administration's "Great Society." Nevertheless, the situation must be evaluated, if not by the Bush administration, then by citizens who will be affected by the government's actions.

There are, in fact, lessons to be learned from the hurricane and its aftermath. First, the ongoing federal war on poverty destroys initiative and creates a dangerous dependence on the federal government that can lead to both paralysis and anarchy during times of crisis. Moreover, the ongoing federal social-welfare programs, instead of eliminating poverty, actually tend to create more poverty, for the simple reason that whatever you subsidize increases in quantity. Second, government is most responsive when its various functions are handled at the lowest level, as close to the people as possible, the appropriate level depending on the specifics of what needs to be done. This must be determined by those present at the problem; it can't be decided within a distant bureaucracy a thousand miles away.

The Administration's Plan

For those who have paid any attention whatsoever to the Bush administration since it first took office, there has never been any doubt about its true nature. Republicans and movement conservatives have been eager to depict Bush as a solidly conservative leader. This has never been true, of course. Since taking office, Bush has done nearly everything he can to expand the powers of government. From the No Child Left Behind Act, which put the Fed in the schools to an unprecedented degree (recall that even Reagan once gave lip service to the idea of abolishing the Federal Department of Education), to new initiatives to put men on the Moon and on Mars, to the diabolically open-ended and misused "War on Terrorism," Bush has sought to expand government at every turn. …

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