Federalism may not be dead yet, but we can schedule the wake.
President Bush yesterday sought to federalize hurricane-relief efforts, removing governors from the decision-making process.
“It wouldn’t be necessary to get a request from the governor or take other action,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday.
“This would be,” he added, “more of an automatic trigger.”
Mr. McClellan was referring to a new, direct line of authority that would allow the president to place the Pentagon in charge of responding to natural disasters, terrorist attacks and outbreaks of disease.
Alright, let’s do it. Let’s pass whatever legislation is necessary and amend the Posse Comitatus Act and toast marshmallows on our warm, happy feelings. But let me ask a question in the four nanoseconds before we ram this through. Why bother having a state chief executive (or even having states) if we’re going to federalize such an obvious role for a governor?
We all know this is stupidity coming from an administration yet to meet a federal expansion it doesn’t like. But the administration can’t possibly think the federal government will run this better than states. Louisiana is by all indications a very poor example for state competence, but whose fault is that? Louisiana citizens are responsible for voting in their leaders and maintaining watch over them. Naturally, this administration seems content to eliminate checks and balances on the government, so their obtuseness in this not-so-subtle point can be forgiven. When the residents of New Orleans allowed corruption to persist within the police department and local government, they made a choice with foreseeable consequences. I’m not indicting them or refusing sympathy for their plight in this, but when a person hits themselves in the head, repeatedly, with the clawed end of a hammer, we don’t become shocked when they start to bleed. We also don’t propose banning hammers.
Of course, President Bush can claim all sorts of failures within Louisiana governments, both state and local. But the mistakes flowed all around. Perhaps, if he’s sincere, the president will wait for an assessment of what went wrong (and what went right) before offering solutions to those faults. But all I’ve done is quote the White House press secretary. Maybe the president should speak for himself:
“It may require change of law,” Mr. Bush said yesterday. “It’s very important for us as we look at the lessons of Katrina to think about other scenarios that might require a well-planned, significant federal response — right off the bat — to provide stability.”
Who will make that determination? What level of “we didn’t see this disaster coming” is necessary? Is it all disasters, with or without warning? Again, if it’s not a state’s governor making that determination, why bother having states? Throw out our republican form of government and adopt a straight democracy. President Bush seems content on pushing for that with whatever the topic du jour happens to be, so perhaps he should just kill the slow descent and cut the cord. Yes, the landing will be hard, but at least we can begin with truth rather than this charade of federalism and Republican values.