Thursday, September 29, 2005

Noonan: Authority not = to Responsibility

Peggy Noonan:
David Brooks on "Meet the Press" Sunday said he thought Katrina had given rise to a greater public desire for "authority" and "order." I found what he was saying typically thoughtful, but I differ with him. That difference gives rise to this piece.

I don't think Americans are or have been, by nature, lovers of authority. When we think of the old America we think of house-raisings on the prairie and teeming cities full of immigrants, but a big part of the American nature can also be found in the story of Jeremiah Johnson, the mountain man who just wanted to live off by himself, unbothered and unmolested by people and their churches and clubs and rules. He didn't like authority. He wanted to be left alone.

We live in the age of emergency, however, and in that age we hunger for someone to take responsibility. Not authority, but a sense of "I'll lead you out of this." On 9/11 the firemen took responsibility: I will go into the fire. So did the mayor: This is how we'll get through, this is how we'll triumph.

In New Orleans, by contrast, the mayor seemed panicked, the governor seemed medicated, and the airborne wasn't there until it was there and peace was restored. Until then no one took responsibility. There was a vacuum. But nature abhors a vacuum, so rumors and chaos came in to fill it. Which made things worse.

No one took charge. Thus the postgame commentary in which everyone blamed someone else: The mayor fumbled the ball, the governor didn't call the play, the president didn't have a ground game.


Kannafoot said...

The response at all levels to Katrina underscored a set of fundamental problems that have developed in our nation of late. People in leadership positions seem loath to actually lead in times of crisis. Once the crisis is over, we have an insatiable thirst to assign blame.

There were plenty of lessons to be learned from both Katrina and Rita. Lessons to be learned, however, does not imply blame to be assigned. What should we learn from this? There is no viable method of evacuation available to even moderately sized cities. There is no documented disaster recovery plan in place for predictable types of disasters in major places. There is no emergency funding built into the federal, state, and local budgets to be tapped when disaster strikes.

Rather than wasting time and money trying to assign blame for the reaction to Katrina and Rita, I would prefer to see us perform a meaningful "lessons learned" study and take the steps to correct what we did wrong this year.

We need leadership and responsibility. We do not need to assign blame.

Marc said...

Kannafoot, I wholeheartedly agree.