Tuesday, September 27, 2005


September 14, 2005
Failure of an Idea -- And a People
By David Brooks

In his 1935 State of the Union Address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt
(FDR) spoke to a nation mired in the Depression, but still marinated
in conservative values:

"Continued dependence" upon welfare, said FDR, "induces a spiritual
disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To
dole our relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle
destroyer of the human spirit."

Behind FDR's statement was the conviction that, while the government
must step in in an emergency, in normal times, men provide the food,
clothing and shelter for their families.

And we did, until the war pulled us out of the Depression and a
postwar boom made us, in John K. Galbraith's phrase, The Affluent
Society. By the 1960s, America, the richest country on earth, was
growing ever more prosperous. But with the 1964 landslide of LBJ,
liberalism triumphed and began its great experiment.

Behind the Great Society was a great idea: to lift America's poor out
of poverty, government should now take care of all their basic needs.
By giving the poor welfare, subsidized food, public housing and free
medical care, government will end poverty in America.

At the Superdome and New Orleans Convention Center, we saw the failure
of 40 years of the Great Society. No sooner had Katrina passed by and
the 17th Street levee broke than hundreds of young men who should have
taken charge in helping the aged, the sick and the women with babies
to safety took to the streets to shoot, loot and rape. The New Orleans
police, their numbers cut by deserters who left their posts to look
after their families, engaged in running gun battles all day long to
stay alive and protect people.

It was the character and conduct of its people that makes the New
Orleans disaster unique. After a hurricane, people's needs are simple:
food, water, shelter, medical attention. But they can be hard to meet.

People buried in rubble or hiding in attics of flooded homes are tough
to get to. But, even with the incompetence of the mayor and governor,
and the torpor of federal officials, this was possible.

Coast Guard helicopters were operating Tuesday. There were roads open
into the city for SUVs, buses and trucks. While New Orleans was
flooded, the water was stagnant. People walked through to the
convention center and Superdome. The flimsiest boat could navigate.

Even if government dithered for days -- what else is new -- this does
not explain the failure of the people themselves!

Between 1865 and 1940, the South -- having lost a fourth of its best
and bravest in battle, devastated by war, mired in poverty -- was
famous for the hardy self-reliance of her people, black and white.

In 1940, hundreds of British fishermen and yachtsmen sailed back and
forth daily under fire across a turbulent 23-mile Channel to rescue
300,000 soldiers from Dunkirk. How do we explain to the world that a
tenth of that number of Americans could not be reached in four days
from across a stagnant pond?

The real disaster of Katrina was that society broke down. An entire
community could not cope. Liberalism, the idea that good intentions
and government programs can build a Great Society, was exposed as
fraud. After trillions of tax dollars for welfare, food stamps, public
housing, job training and education have poured out since 1965,
poverty remains pandemic. But today, when the police vanish, the
community disappears and men take to the streets to prey on women and
the weak.

Stranded for days in a pool of fetid water, almost everyone waited for
the government to come save them. They screamed into the cameras for
help, and the reporters screamed into the cameras for help, and the
"civil rights leaders" screamed into the cameras that Bush was
responsible and Bush was a racist.

Americans were once famous for taking the initiative, for having young
leaders rise up to take command in a crisis. See any of that at the
Superdome? Sri Lankans and Indonesians, far poorer than we, did not
behave like this in a tsunami that took 400 times as many lives as
Katrina has thus far.

We are the descendants of men and women who braved the North Atlantic
in wooden boats to build a country in a strange land. Our ancestors
traveled thousands of miles in covered wagons, fighting off Indians
far braver than those cowards preying on New Orleans' poor.

Watching that performance in the Crescent City, it seems clear: We are
not the people our parents were. And what are all our Lords Temporal
now howling for? Though government failed at every level, they want
more government.

FDR was right. A "spiritual disintegration" has overtaken us.
Government-as-first provider, the big idea of the Great Society, has
proven to be "a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit."

Either we get off this narcotic, or it kills us.

Mike Peabody
The Evans Group, LLC


Mr Shoop said...

Interesting point of view. I agree for the most part. But Don't forget that even though we may not see it on the 6 o'clock news, there are many people who have risen to the occasion to help those in need. People from all over the country have volunteered their time and energy to help people that they have never met.

rover said...

If we don't get a new post in three days I'm going to officially declare this blog DOA.

Proteinstar said...

IT lives!!! IT LIVES!!!!!