Dec 02 2010

Politics After Katrina

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Societal structure is put to the utmost test during times of crises, such aas wars, natural disasters, and other devastating events. Hurricane Katrina is the largest natural disaster to hit the mainland United States to date; leaving in it’s wake a web of complications ranging from damaged levees and extensive flooding to permanently altering the political landscape of local and national politics. Despite government warnings and evacuation plans, many residents of New Orleans decided to stay in their homes, and hope to wait out the storm. This resulted in thousands of citizens being stranded amongst massive flooding and millions of dollars in damages caused by the hurricane. These citizens, who eventually became refugees, were dependant upon government aid, and when the United States government did not satisfy their needs, the national political structure was altered. In sum, Hurricane Katrina caused a shift in government to higher dependency on faith-based organizations, and was also extremely influential on the national political realm.

The United States government, and its immensely large bureaucracy thought they were prepared to deal with any disaster that occurred within its borders. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was created and staffed with federal employees whose sole responsibility was to respond to any disaster that hit the United States.  However, on the morning of August 29th, 2005 FEMA saw a disaster that was historically unparalleled, and the inefficiencies of the organization became very blatant. FEMA, much like any government agency is simply not large enough to handle a situation such as Hurricane Katrina effectively. Senator Jeff Sessions from the state of Alabama highlighted this inefficiency in a press release following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina when he stated “There’s no way the federal government can maintain on its payroll enough people to immediately respond to every single problem. FEMA will never be large enough to fully deal with a hurricane of this size, and we wouldn’t want them to (Olasky, 2006).” Sessions highlighted a key concept when he mentioned the size of FEMA. It is unrealistic to assume that any government agency could become large enough to manage such a disaster as Hurricane Katrina, and if it were large enough to handle the disaster, the organization would be too powerful and undermine the concept of self government that’s core to the United States. Therefore once hurricane Katrina struck landfall, the government realized they weren’t going to be able to handle the disaster effectively and thus turned to other organizations for aid, predominantly faith based organizations.  President Bush outlined the role these organizations were going to have to play in cleanup after the disaster when in a press conference he said “because they are closer to the people they serve, our faith based and community organizations deliver better results than government. And they have a human touch: when a person in need knocks on the door of a faith based organization, he or she is welcomed as a brother or a sister (Olasky, 2006).” President Bush’s comments were unprecedented. Never before had a president told the American people that they should not turn to the government in time of need, and should turn to community organizations because they were more efficient and provided better results.  In the wake of hurricane Katrina, these faith based and community based organizations embraced their role as the primary caregiver in the gulf region. The Department of Health and Human Services, in a recent study, estimated that more than 65% of the general welfare came from such organizations, and thousands of individuals were given a roof to sleep under as well as food and clothing from such organizations. Not surprisingly, the report concluded that faith based and community based organizations were more efficient than government organizations in nearly every characteristic of aid after hurricane Katrina (Carol, 2008). After hurricane Katrina, nearly all demographics altered their view of American government, thus solidifying the evolution of dependency on government to a larger role played by faith and community based organizations (Dawson, 2006). The dominance of these organizations will forever alter the political landscape because citizens and government alike now recognize the inefficiencies in the government, undermining the legitimacy of the government in the eyes of the American people.

Associated Press. George Bush at Katrina press conference.

The delayed and ineffective aid provided by FEMA in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina also translated to the national political realm. Following hurricane Katrina, then president George W. Bush saw a rapid slump in his approval rating. Howard Dean, when asked questioned about the causes of the sudden slump in approval, responded “Katrina showed he is incompetent. Before Katrina, everyone, including America’s friends and enemies believed if something awful happened in the world, you could call in the Americans and they’d fix it “(Walsh, 2008).  With Bush’s approval rating rapidly dropping across all polls, his legitimacy also diminished. In order for president’s to achieve legislative goals, they must have the backing of the American public. If they do not have the backing of the public, there is no incentive for Congressional members to uphold the President’s agenda because their constituents have no interest in it. As a result of the slow response, and millions of citizens seemingly abandoned by the United States government in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, Bush was not able to regain the popularity needed to substantiate his political agenda. Therefore, proposals such as solidifying tax cuts, and immigration policy were never able to crystallize in the final days of Bush’s presidency (Clark, 2010).

Associated Press. Katrina relief efforts.

In addition to government ineffectiveness, hurricane Katrina revealed the massive influence special interest and lobbying groups hold over Washington. Its difficult to imagine that even on an issue of where government contracts are awarded, special interest groups have the power to delegate government decisions. In determining where government contracts would be awarded, three variables were taken into consideration: previous experience, lobbying contributions, and any powerful special interest groups. As expected, experience proved to be a large predictor of whether or not a company would receive a contract. If a company had been previously awarded a contract, they were 11 times more likely to receive another. Experience matters and thus this isn’t a negative aspect of the cleanup process. The other two variables, however, highlighted the corruption that exists in American government. Colorado State University found that larger lobbying contributions resulted in a company being five times more likely to receive a contract, and the power of a given special interest group made a given company three times more likely to receive a contract (Hogan, 2010). Essentially in Washington, “money talks” and those without money simply are left behind or their voices go unheard.

Hurricane Katrina resulted in millions of displaced citizens across the southeastern United States, and billions of dollars in damages.  In it’s wake, the government was proved to be less effective that previously thought, more corrupt than previously known, and crystallized into a general non approval of the government by the American citizen.

Bibliography

Clarke , K. (2010, August 25). Katrina leaves new Orleans political landscape looking whiter . Retrieved November 3, 2010, from    http://www.thegrio.com/specials/katrina—five-years-later/hurricane-katrina-leaves-political-    aftershocks-in-its-wake.php

Dawson, M, Lacewell, M , & Cohen, C. (2006). 2005 racial attitudes and the katrina disaster study. Unpublished         manuscript, Department of Political Science , University of Chicago,Chicago, Illinois. Retrieved November 3,         2010, from www.      news.uchicago.edu/releases/06/images/katrina_report.doc –

Hogan , M , Long , M , & Stretesky , P. (2010). Campaign contributions, lobbying, and post Katrina contracts.     Disaster, 34(3), 593-607.Retrieved November 3, 2010 from Academic Search Premier.

Lay, Carl . (2009). Race, retrospective voting, and disasters: the reelection of c ray nagin after hurricane Katrina.         Urban Affairs Review, 44(5), 645-662. Retrieved November 3, 2010, from Academic Search Premier
Olasky, Martha. (2006). The politics of disaster: katrina, big and a new strategy for future crises. Nashville,         Tennessee: Westinghouse Publishing Group. Retrieved November 3, 2010, from Academic Search Premier.

Clayton , J. Department of Health and Human Services, Assistant Secretary For Planning and Evaluation. (2008). The role of faith based and community organizations in providing relief and recovery services after hurricane katrina Washington, DC:

Walsh , K . (2008, December 11 ). Hurricane katrina leaves mark on bush’s presidency . US News ,

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