Originally created 09/30/05

Wrong man, right point



During Katrina and its flooded aftermath, no one was in over his head more than Michael Brown.

The outgoing head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was ill-prepared for the job. A law school graduate who spent 10 years as a commissioner with the International Arabian Horse Association, he landed at FEMA as a political friend and fund-raiser to the Bush administration.

It's quite astonishing, really, that an administration that was in power on Sept. 11, 2001, would have so foolishly treated the nation's top emergency preparedness post as a jobs program for friends.

Having said that, we risk losing something very important in the tempest of Brown's stormy departure: a consensus on what, exactly, the federal role should be in disaster response.

Amazingly, congressmen this week pummeled Brown with questions over why FEMA hadn't provided such things as ice - or five gallons of gas for each evacuee.

What?

We need to get a grip, folks.

First off, the primary responsibility for disaster response always has, and still does, rest with state and local officials. In this particular case, Brown is not just passing the buck when he says that Louisiana and New Orleans were "dysfunctional." They were.

Moreover, we need a serious, candid national discussion over the role of the federal government in our lives, not just in times of emergency.

"I don't think that's a federal-government responsibility to keep my hamburger meat ... fresh," Brown said of the "ice" talk.

Michael Brown was the wrong man at FEMA. But he's right about this - unless America has slid much further into the abyss of blatant socialism than already feared.