Katrina: More Giuliani, Less Clinton
John Tierney believes that the biggest mistake made by state, local, and federal officials was in trying to be Bill Clinton rather than Rudy Guiliani.
[…] Mr. Bush made a lot of mistakes last week, but most of his critics are making an even bigger one now by obsessing about what he said and did. We can learn more by listening to men like Jim Judkins, particularly when he explains the Magic Marker method of disaster preparedness. Mr. Judkins is one of the officials in charge of evacuating the Hampton Roads region around Newport News, Va. These coastal communities, unlike New Orleans, are not below sea level, but they’re much better prepared for a hurricane. Officials have plans to run school buses and borrow other buses to evacuate those without cars, and they keep registries of the people who need special help. Instead of relying on a “Good Samaritan” policy – the fantasy in New Orleans that everyone would take care of the neighbors – the Virginia rescue workers go door to door. If people resist the plea to leave, Mr. Judkins told The Daily Press in Newport News, rescue workers give them Magic Markers and ask them to write their Social Security numbers on their body parts so they can be identified. “It’s cold, but it’s effective,” Mr. Judkins explained.
That simple strategy could have persuaded hundreds of people to save their own lives in New Orleans. What the city needed most was coldly effective local leaders, not a president in Washington who could feel their pain. It’s the same lesson we should have learned from Sept. 11 and other disasters, yet both liberals and conservatives keep ignoring it.
The liberals bewailing the insensitivity and racism of Republicans in Washington sound like a bad rerun of the 1960’s, when urban riots were blamed on everyone but the rioters and the police. Yes, the White House did a terrible job of responding to Katrina, but Democratic leaders in New Orleans and Louisiana didn’t even fulfill their basic duties. In coastal Virginia – which, by the way, has a large black population and plenty of Republican politicians – Mr. Judkins and his colleagues assume that it’s their job to evacuate people, maintain order and stockpile supplies to last for 72 hours, until federal help arrives. In New Orleans, the mayor seemed to assume all that was beyond his control, just like the mayors in the 1960’s who let the riots occur.
They said their cities couldn’t survive without help from Washington, which proceeded to shower inner cities with money and programs that did more damage than the riots. Cities didn’t recover until some mayors, especially Republicans like Rudy Giuliani, tried self-reliance. Mr. Giuliani was called heartless and racist for cutting the welfare rolls and focusing on crime reduction, but black neighborhoods were the greatest beneficiaries of his policies. He was criticized for ignoring social services as he concentrated on reorganizing the Police and Fire Departments, but his cold effectiveness made the city a more livable place and kept it calm after Sept. 11.
In some ways, Guiliani had it easier after 9/11. Outrage and patriotism blocked out despair and motivated people to act rather than wallow in self pity. Still, Tierney’s basic point is worth heeding.