I was reading Jason Berry’s review of three books about Katrina, and couldn’t suppress a snide chuckle when I read a quote from Jed Horne’s book, Breach of Faith. Horne interviewed Bob Harvey, a controversial local figure who used to head the Orleans Parish Levee Board, and was reputed to have used his position to the fullest political advantage (i.e. not to the advantage of the citizenry who assumed that the levees were actually safe). Here’s the passage:
"Brooding about the failed levees, Harvey, who escaped from his inundated neighborhood behind the 17th Street Canal in a boat, utters deep truth: "But if you want to kill the Orleans Levee Board … that might not be such a bad idea."
That’s the thing about politicians. An unacceptably low percentage of them have real vision; most politicians only use ‘vision’ to assess events bounded by the next election cycle. Unfortunately, our biggest social problems have something much longer than a 4 year event horizon. Katrina is but one example. The strange thing about Katrina is that we don’t seem to really be able to admit that the hurricane was not the root cause of the worst problems.
I watched Spike Lee’s 4 hour documentary on HBO on Monday and Tuesday and it made me sad and angry at the same time. People will have different views of the film, and not everyone will like it. But it definitely captures much of the Katrina experience, at least from the view of those of us who live here (and especially those who stayed after the storm, which I did not). The documentary raises questions about how effective our ‘leadership’ was in preparing for and in responding to the crisis. I think it’s safe to say we did a piss poor job.
Everyone likes to feel proud of the country where they were born and grew up, and the United States is obviously a great country. But we have an intricate political structure and we rely on our politicians to solve very intricate problems, many of which require thoughtfulness and earnest attention. I wonder if the great democratic model exemplified by the United States is at its zenith. Is our political system really functioning at its best now?
I’d like to believe that our political system is still improving, but I can’t bring myself to do that. Maybe we’re living in an age where the power of democratic nation-states is on the decline. I’m not the only one who wonders about this. In the old days when the Church was powerful people believed that God was going to solve all their problems. Now, we live in the Age of Reason. And we think that science will solve our problems (even the ones that we have created ourselves). Maybe it’s time for us to become a little more realistic.
I hope no one is counting on the government to solve our big societal problems. That would be delusional.