Sunday, April 23, 2006

A golden opportunity

It seems clear from a flurry of news stories in the past few weeks that Democrats plan to make the government failures in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina a central plank in their 2006 campaign platform. One such story in the WashPost serves as a fitting example.
The Democrats came to New Orleans this week to highlight what they want the midterm elections to be about: a referendum on Bush's leadership and competence. Just as Iraq symbolizes Americans' disenchantment with Bush's foreign policy, New Orleans stands as a poignant reminder of the breakdown of government after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Democrats intend to use that imagery as a partisan weapon between now and November to argue that Bush has failed the American people on multiple fronts.
Fine, but not enough. For one, the government failures after Katrina were maddening to most Americans, but the details are really only important to Gulf Coast citizens. Voters in the rest of the country, who don't live in hurricane territory, are probably not going to cast their ballots based on the intricacies of FEMA bureaucracy.

What Democrats have to (and get to) do is turn Katrina into an analogy for the differences between the parties. Don't turn the issue into competence, turn it into the role of government. For once, Democrats have a perfect opportunity to champion the role that the federal government can and must play in helping its citizens. Most obviously, a more active federal government could have responded more quickly and adequately to the hurricane via FEMA, DHS, etc. But also, a more active federal government could help alleviate the poverty than turned Katrina from a disaster into a tragedy. No Americans should be so poor that they cannot afford to leave their homes when a Category 5 hurricane is imminent. There is no better example than Katrina to demonstrate the injustice and unfairness of the right's "every man for himself" mentality. Rarely will the issue of poverty resonate with the public at large. But this is one such time, and Democrats shouldn't let it pass them by.

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