By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Friday, September 2, 2005
The sight of rescue workers, the police and the Coast Guard, governors, mayors, and federal officials struggling desperately with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina brings to mind Cohen's Law: "Government is the enemy until you need a friend."
...One can hope that our individual generosity will pour forth to our fellow citizens suffering on the Gulf Coast. We can take some solace in the fact that for every looter, there is a sport fisherman who brought a boat up to New Orleans to help in rescue efforts. There is a Red Cross nurse caring for an injured person, a Coast Guard member conducting a daring rescue, a volunteer in a church basement comforting a homeless child.
Yet this is a moment in which individual acts of charity and courage, though laudable and absolutely necessary, cannot be enough. It is a time when government is morally obligated to be competent, prepared, innovative, flexible, well-financed -- in short, smart enough and, yes, big enough to undertake an enormous task. Not only personal lives but also public things must be put back together.
You wonder if this summer, with deteriorating conditions in Iraq and now this terrifying act of God, might make us more serious. This is said not to be a time for politics, and we can surely do without the petty sort. But how we pull our country together, make our government work at a time of great need, and share the sacrifices that war and natural catastrophe have imposed on us -- these are inescapably political questions...