Kash of Angry Bear has an excellent post in which he characterizes the differences between liberals and conservatives and, actually, most of it I agree with. Here are the basics of his case:
- Some things (actually quite a few things) are just the results of bad luck.
- A decent nation aids people who’ve had bad luck.
- Taking care of society’s hard luck cases is a public good.
I don’t consider myself either a liberal or a conservative. I’m pretty clearly not a conservative (at least not as they seem to be now) because I definitely believe that government has a role in just such activities as Kash is talking about. Where I think I differ from Kash is that when I say government I think I mean something different than he does:
Liberals believe in a strong and well-run national government that has the resources and organization to provide effective help to the victims of disasters such as Katrina. Conservatives have planned and executed the down-sizing of such federal government responsibilities.
I’m not convinced that the federal government is the best choice for the first line of defense in helping victims of disasters such as Katrina. And that pretty clearly means I’m not a liberal, either (at least as they seem to be now).
You see I believe in the principle of subsidiarity, the idea that government should operate as closely to the people as can reasonably be achieved. There’s a role for local governments, state governments, and the federal government.
Kash pretty clearly blames conservatives for the Katrina disaster:
I could go on with this list, but I’m sure that you can fill in additional items yourself. My point is that nearly all policy divides between liberals and conservatives contain a strong element of the philosophical divide that I described above: that liberals tend to believe that people often suffer due to forces outside of their control, and that when that happens the government should help out; while conservatives think that the government should play a minimal role in helping those who have fallen on hard times.
Katrina provides a horrible but effective illustration of this difference in action.
I think that’s being overwrought. The disaster in New Orleans had many causes. The most important were:
- The hurricane
- The river
- The geography and geology of New Orleans
- The failure of the levee
Neither liberals nor conservatives are in any way responsible for any of the first three. Hurricanes, rivers, and geography have no politics, political parties, or political philosophies. I lived for many years on the banks of the Mississippi. It just keeps rolling along.
The failure of the levee is an interesting case, however, but I think it proves the opposite of what Kash believes. The Army Corps of Engineers has had primary reponsibility by statute for flood control on the Mississippi since the 1930’s IIRC. Congress funds the Corps, directs its operations, and provides oversight. The Chief Executive and the military administers the Corps and provides day-to-day direction. Neither the Bush administration, the Clinton administration, the Bush administration, the Reagan administration, nor the Carter administration (and so on) nor any of the Congresses—some dominated by Democrats some by Republicans—saw fit to correct the problems with the defense of New Orleans against the water.
Delegating power and responsibilities to the federal government impedes, emasculates, and infantilizes local governments and individuals. I think that if the federal government had gotten the hell out of the way there’s a pretty good chance that New Orleans would have solved its own problems long ago. They had a stake in the outcome that can’t be matched by any federal bureaucrat or any federal agency.
That’s just human nature which is another force of nature as powerful and ineluctable as hurricanes and geography and which, like rivers, just keeps rolling along.