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Lessons of Katrina

10:02 AM, Feb 26, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Nicole Gelinas has a smart piece over at City Journal on Bobby Jindal's missed an opportunity to make the case for limited government Tuesday night:

In the Republican response to President Obama's speech last night, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal could have used his state's searing Hurricane Katrina experience as an object lesson in the proper role of limited government in a relatively free-market economy. Sadly, the Katrina story he told made exactly the opposite point.

Jindal noted that Republicans have an "honest and fundamental disagreement" with Democrats about "the proper role of government." Regarding the public sector's ability to rescue Americans from the economic storm, he said, "those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina-we have our doubts." Jindal told how, in the immediate aftermath of the 2005 storm, he went to visit Sheriff Harry Lee (now deceased) and found him yelling into the phones. Lee had learned that volunteers in boats were ready to go out and help, but that "some bureaucrat" had told them they couldn't do so without insurance and registration. The sheriff told the boaters to "ignore the bureaucrats and go start rescuing people." From this tale, Jindal concluded, America should realize that "the strength of America is not found in our government" but in the "enterprising spirit" of regular people.

The problem with Jindal's story-and one reason why Republicans are in so much trouble now-is that reasonable people don't consider providing critical, life-saving support for starving and dehydrated people after an unprecedented natural disaster to be an example of scarily big government. That's just minimally competent government, even in a country far less developed than ours. In fact, Jindal's story illustrates the opposite of what he intended. Lee, a longtime government official, personified the functional, nimble government that we need. He overrode unnamed bureaucrats and told volunteers that he'd be personally responsible if they ran into any more trouble. Lee made a smart decision on the fly and saved lives. Unfortunately, other officials-at all levels, with only a few exceptions-proved shamefully negligent in their responses. Because they failed at their jobs, people died.

Read the whole thing here .