September 14, 2005


Whose Victory, Exactly? (Anne Applebaum, September 14, 2005, Washington Post)

Last week my son's elementary school raised several thousand dollars for hurricane victims by washing cars. My other son's preschool announced without fuss that a boy from New Orleans would be joining the class. My employer is organizing help for the company's Gulf Coast employees, my local bookstore is collecting money for the Red Cross and my favorite radio station raised $54,000 last weekend. Every church or synagogue attended by anyone I know is, of course, raising money, housing evacuees or delivering clothes to victims.

To put it differently, nearly every institution with which I come into daily contact -- my library, my grocery store, my search engine -- has already donated time or money to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and I don't think this makes me or my community unique. [...]

[C]onsider the effectiveness of the relief strategies so far. With great fanfare, the federal government announced it would distribute debit cards to Katrina victims. The result was chaos, anger and expectations of fraud. Quietly, the Red Cross has been paying evacuees' hotel bills. The result is that 57,000 people have time to plan what to do next. Massive government efforts to get people into massive shelters have led to dissatisfaction, delays, long lines and frustration. But private initiatives -- ranging across the political spectrum from's, which is advertising space in thousands of private homes, to First Baptist Church in Athens, Tex., which has just installed six new showers -- are helping people find better housing faster. Over the longer term, it's also pretty safe to bet that people who relocate thanks to a church, find a job thanks to a charitable Web site, and get by thanks to their extended families are going to do a lot better, economically and psychologically, than the people who hang around waiting to be helped by a government jobs program and a government trauma counselor.

I'm not saying anything radical here: I'm not calling for the abolition of FEMA, and I certainly think there's a role for government in disaster and evacuation planning. But it is true that the worst failures of the past two weeks have been big government failures. The biggest successes, by contrast, have come out of this country's incredibly vibrant, amazingly diverse and fantastically generous civil society. Sooner or later, it will be impossible not to draw political lessons from that paradox.


Posted by Orrin Judd at September 14, 2005 1:36 PM

More like heresy, and appearing in the Our Sunday Visitor of the omnicompetent state no less. We live in an age of wonders.

Posted by: Luciferous at September 14, 2005 3:06 PM

Let's cut Ms. Applebaum some slack. She's often been a beacon of sanity amidst the BDS of the MSM.

Posted by: ghostcat at September 14, 2005 5:06 PM

Eh, difference being charity is voluntary, government work isn't.

Posted by: RC at September 14, 2005 5:28 PM