Wednesday, September 07, 2005

For the Record

In a microcosm of a weird debate over "taking charge, over at the Volokh Conspiracy a couple of conspirators can't seem to agree as to whether Rudy Giuliani should have been sent down to New Orleans to supervise disaster relief, or if President Bush should take command. I am not into hero worship - even assuming Giuliani wanted the job, I don't think that sort of appointment would do anything to help. What does Giuliani represent to the people of New Orleans? What does he know of them? The context is very different from New York City, and the skill set demanded is also very different. (If the goal, though, is to overshadow news stories about government ineptitude, such an appointment might work for a couple of days.)

I am also not one to think that Bush should be taking charge. Had Bush done his job, he would in fact have quality people at FEMA and DHS who were responding capably and efficiently to the crisis. But even given Bush's lousy choices for appointments, he is the President of the United States - even on this scale, disaster management is a job he should be delegating.

Presidential involvement in this type of disaster has often revolved around carefully orchestrated visits and photo opportunities - something I have personally found distasteful starting many Presidents ago when I first realized the purpose of the appearances. Oh, perhaps I'm being too cynical - a President's appearance can help rally and inspire the people who have been ravaged by a disaster, as well as those who are engaged in the relief effort. But it is my impression that appearances at disasters have turned into events to help advance a President's public image, followed by generous allotments of federal aid to help secure votes in the next election. (Isn't that the stuff Bush is supposed to be good at? Look at his performance after the 2004 hurricanes in Florida, and the record amounts of federal aid provided (sometimes indiscriminately). So the problem here was... what? Not enough Repubicans left treading water?)

In any event, a lot of responsibility for disaster management should fall on state and local government. The federal government has assumed the role of assisting with large-scale disaster relief - in many cases taking the lead role - and with that assumption of power should come the responsibility of competent performance. But disasters should be managed by professionals in disaster management.

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