Katrina is a pivotal, historic event. While its cause is natural, its reprocussions will be comparable to 9/11. No — there is no moral equivalence between a natural disaster and the machinations of a fascist suicide cult — but disasters require moral responses. Adversity tests the caliber of nations.

Historical tipping points are often unexpected, coming from nowhere. President Bush has been confronted now with two major jolts that test American mettle. In pre-9/11 times Hurricane Katrina would have spawned a very different political response, such as during the halcyon days of 1992 when Hurricane Andrew hit Florida. Andrew was a disaster, but the political atmosphere was very different then. The country rallied, and the damage was overcome.

Hurricane Katrina is probably more calamitous than Andrew, exacting more death and damage. An entire city appears to be submerged. A large swath of the Gulf Coast is splintered. Our nation’s energy infrastructure is under duress, threatening economic fallout. There’s a potential mass migration of refugees. In the current divisive political atmosphere, Katrina’s aftermath will be a challenge for any president, much less the one we have.

Andrew Sullivan posted a quote yesterday from Editor and Publisher magazine, that gives a hint of the political firestorm to come:

On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: “It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.”

Also that June, with the 2004 hurricane season starting, the Corps’ project manager Al Naomi went before a local agency, the East Jefferson Levee Authority, and essentially begged for $2 million for urgent work that Washington was now unable to pay for. From the June 18, 2004 Times-Picayune:

“The system is in great shape, but the levees are sinking. Everything is sinking, and if we don’t get the money fast enough to raise them, then we can’t stay ahead of the settlement,” he said. “The problem that we have isn’t that the levee is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can’t raise them.”

Mr. Sullivan concludes: “Yes, some would even blame Bush and the war for a hurricane. But blaming Bush and the war for the poor state of New Orleans’ levees is a legitimate argument. And it could be a crushing one.”

Crushing, indeed. I have long wondered if this nation has the resources to combat global terrorism, extend democracy abroad, manage the disruption of a descendent Europe, and pay rising costs of buttressing our expanding infrastructure from natural disasters. People who are content to point their fingers at President Bush should reserve a few more fingers for the full gamut of challenges of maintaining a cogent, functioning society in the global age.

It was interesting to note that the Department of Homeland Security has responsibilities in managing Katrina’s aftermath. Homeland Security seemed to be only about fighting terrorism. But I believe the byline to fighting terror is really just that we’re beating back chaos in all forms. Katrina is certainly chaotic. Enter Secretary Michael Chertoff, showing that natural disasters are homeland security issues too.

If people only want this disaster to oscillate with their pet political beefs, then what the heck, I’ll join in the charade: I blame bin Laden. I blame terrorists. I blame Palestinians who claim nationality without responsibility. I blame an intransigent, smug and weak Europe. I blame a thoroughly corrupt UN. I blame Katrina’s wrath on anyone or anything that unnecessarily taxes our nation’s resources, diverting our wealth away from maintaining our own infrastructure. By all means, lets all point fingers now.

Well, let’s not. Let’s get the Gulf Coast back on its feet. We’re all being tested here, not just the storm victims down south. Give to the relief fund of your choice, and take stock in how much you have. We’ve been blessed.

Politics Blessed