I know that merely suggesting that we restore, revitalize, or reinvigorate any part of the federal government is enough to cause my libertarian readers to have to take long naps with cold washcloths on their foreheads lest they have an aneurysm.
But I keep thinking about FEMA and how, of all of the federal agencies a person in the midwest has to deal with, FEMA was the least noxious. After the ’93 flood, there was enough anger to go around and I remember how people were almost homicidally enraged at the Corps. But FEMA? My impression was that FEMA worked. They came in; they did what they were supposed to do; they were a big bureaucracy; but people could navigate it.
And I am convinced that when folks who had dealt successfully with FEMA in the past saw what happened after Katrina it was, to them, indisputable evidence that something was very, very wrong in Washington.
I know that folks argue that we should not depend on the federal government to do what charities and ordinary people are capable of. But look at the Gulf Coast. After Katrina, there was an out-pouring of money and people the likes of which I’ve never seen before. There are still charities and church groups down there working just as hard as they can. And it’s not enough. It’s been two years and nonstop work by various NGOs (in the literal sense) and it’s not been enough. There just aren’t enough people, not enough organization, not enough coordination. We need something the size of the federal government to deal with that stuff and to be able to deal with that stuff.
Also, as anyone can tell you who works for organizations dependent on charitable giving, people send their money to the cause that grabs their hearts right now. Your ability to get help in times of disaster should not be dependent on your ability to grab headlines and keep them.
We also have to consider, now that it’s clear that we’ll be in Iraq indefinitely and the war drum beating on invading Iran (Our motto: “Securing peace in the Middle East by giving people who hate each other a common enemy they hate worse!”), that the VA must work. No sending out letters subtly encouraging vets to kill themselves. No leaving vets lying in fly infested rooms. None of that nonsense.
The way I see it, the only way for a government as large as ours to work for a country as big as ours is for there to be a constant source of tension. I think that, in that regard, the Founding Fathers were wise to develop three separate branches of the government that, by design, check each other. That’s great.
But it’s our duty as citizens to check the government, to monitor it and make sure that it does what it’s supposed to do, what we want it to do, and that it doesn’t get out of control. And that’s not an easy job, but it’s one of the most important ones we have.
It’s wise to not count on the government, but at the same time, we should be able to strive for an accountable government we can count on.