No one is in charge

I’ve started writing a post under that headline a half-dozen times this week. But new evidence to back up that line keeps pouring in.

The leaders we have give us pap (from Bush, who didn’t have the guts to set foot in New Orleans itself, and Blanco), excuses (from Chertoff and Brown), or anger (from Nagin). But none of them gave us action commensurate with this terrrible tragedy. They didn’t give us decisive and effective management. No one is in charge.

Where is Rudy when we need him? (And I’ve said long since that he should have been appointed head of Homeland Security.)

I agree with what Fred Wilson said today about government and management:

I hope and believe that we are on the cusp of a new political order. We’ve had the liberal excesses of the democrat’s run from the depression through Vietnam. We’ve had the conservative excesses of the republican’s run from Vietnam through Iraq.

It’s time we get back to electing people to govern who know something about leading, operating, and managing. We need pragmatic moderates who make the hard decisions without caring about the political impact. We need civil servants in the mold of George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower. We need people who care about the details of governing rather than the details of getting elected.

I don’t want elected officials who think they are moral leaders — because they are not and because that’s not their job. I don’t want leaders who are driven by ideology — when they should be paying attention to their job.

The job of government is to keep us secure. The job of officials in charge of government is to manage that. Period.

I wish I were as optimistic as Fred, but I agree that we must return to standards of civil service and management. The criteria for election is competence. But, of course, that’s up to us. It is also up to media, who goad politicians into fighting over the bullshit that doesn’t matter.

Katrina is a scandal more profound than any ‘gate. It isn’t about cheating or lying or ideology or infighting. It is a scandal of incompetence.

We can only hope that this changes the way we govern.

: LATER: Andrew Sullivan in the Sunday Times of London:

Like many seismic events, Katrina’s true impact might take a while to absorb. What started as a natural disaster soon became an unforeseen social meltdown and potential political crisis for the president. The poverty, anarchy, violence, sewage, bodies, looting, death and disease that overwhelmed a great American city last week made Haiti look like Surrey.

The seeming inability of the federal or city authorities to act swiftly or effectively to rescue survivors or maintain order posed fundamental questions about the competence of the Bush administration and local authorities….

There seems to me a strong chance that this calamity could be the beginning of something profound in American politics: a sense that government is broken and that someone needs to fix it….

: And David Brooks in tomorrow’s NY Times:

As Ross Douthat observed on his blog, The American Scene, Katrina was the anti-9/11.

On Sept. 11, Rudy Giuliani took control. The government response was quick and decisive. The rich and poor suffered alike. Americans had been hit, but felt united and strong. Public confidence in institutions surged.

Last week in New Orleans, by contrast, nobody took control. Authority was diffuse and action was ineffective. The rich escaped while the poor were abandoned. Leaders spun while looters rampaged. Partisans squabbled while the nation was ashamed.

The first rule of the social fabric – that in times of crisis you protect the vulnerable – was trampled. Leaving the poor in New Orleans was the moral equivalent of leaving the injured on the battlefield. No wonder confidence in civic institutions is plummeting….

As a result, it is beginning to feel a bit like the 1970’s, another decade in which people lost faith in their institutions and lost a sense of confidence about the future….