While I often find Michael Kinsley’s editorials in the L.A. Times to have a liberal bias, I thought his editorial today, “The fetid aroma of hindsight” to be reasonable, fair and balanced. Let’s see more of that Michael.
Obviously — obviously in hindsight, that is — we should have spent the money to strengthen the New Orleans levees. President Clinton should have done it. Presidents Bush the Elder and Reagan should have done it. As Tim Noah notes in Slate, warnings about the perilous New Orleans levees go back at least to Fanny Trollope in 1832. In fact, the one president who is pretty much in the clear on this is our current Bush — not because he did anything about the levees but because even if he had started something, it probably wouldn’t have been finished yet.
Everybody is having a fine fit about our politicians, governments at every level and “institutions” (current vogue word) for failing us in this crisis and others. The TV news networks, which only a few months ago were piously suppressing emotional fireworks by their pundits, are now piously encouraging their news anchors to break out of the emotional straitjackets and express outrage. A Los Angeles Times colleague of mine, appearing on CNN last week to talk about Katrina, was told by a producer to “get angry.” But just Google a phrase like “commission warns,” or “urgent steps” or “our children’s future” — or simply “crisis” — and you may develop a bit of sympathy for the people who stand accused today of ignoring the warnings about anything in particular. Far from complacent about potential perils, we suffer from peril gridlock.
Did all the attention and money devoted to protecting us from a terror attack after 9/11 leave us less prepared for a giant flood? Undoubtedly. And if the flood had come first, the opposite would be true. We, the citizens, would have demanded it, and then blamed the politicians and the “institutions” when it turned out to be a bad bet. There is no foresight. We fight the last war because hindsight is all we really have.