THE BLOG
09/09/2005 01:42 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Katrina Proves Conservatives Wrong

The fundamental tenet of conservatism is that smaller government is better. That Americans want a limited government. Do you see anyone calling for limited government after Hurricane Katrina?

Quite the opposite – people are screaming for a big, effective government that can help the people of New Orleans, Mississippi and Alabama. There are recriminations that government had not spent enough money to maintain the levees that protected New Orleans, that it did not react fast enough to rescue its own citizens and that it was too indifferent to the plight of the dispossessed.

Have you heard one complaint that government was too involved in the rescue efforts? Or that private citizens should handle this matter on their own?

Well, there was one comment.

“But if your city believes that it's entitled, if that's, if that's the worldview of the leaders of a community, then I don't care what their race is -- if their worldview is that this is a welfare state -- "the government needs to protect us. The government needs to feed us. The government needs to transport us. The government" -- well, guess what? The government needs to build the levees. The government needs to make sure the levees are -- the government. You're passing the buck all over the place and accepting all the money that the government's sending in to you, ah, and then something like this happens and then you start, you know, wringing your hands.”

Rush Limbaugh September 1, 2005 on New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

At least Rush has the courage to stick to his guns in the face of overwhelming American opposition. He is saying here that American citizens shouldn’t expect to have their government build levees for them or even to protect them. Rush actually believes in a government so small, it does nothing. That’s called anarchy.

We saw what anarchy looked like in New Orleans – and it wasn’t pretty. If that’s the conservative vision of limited government, America has a clear message to the conservative movement – no, thank you!

Grover Norquist is one of the intellectual godfathers of the conservative movement. He famously said that his goal was “to get [government] down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Well, we tried it their way. We saw what happens when you under-fund levees that protect a city. We saw what happens when you don’t get quick and effective government assistance in a rescue effort. We saw what happens when you drown government in New Orleans.

What wound up getting drowned instead was this brand of conservative ideology. America does not support this type of gross indifference.

I dare Norquist and all of the elected Republican officials who have been running on his agenda to step up and stick to their principles. I dare them to suggest that a limited government should not help the people affected by Hurricane Katrina.

They would be run out of town – as well they should be. Americans simply don’t believe in a government that small, that limited or that uncaring.

We believe in a government that cares enough to protect its citizens and that tries to do best by them. We understand that government might not always achieve this objective and that on occasion it might even get too large for its own good, but at least we agree on the objective – government represents the collective might and the collective kindness of all of us when we are put together.

Ronald Reagan first cut taxes when the highest income tax bracket was 70%. That was simply too much taxes. There is an upper limit to how big government can be. But there is also a lower limit to how small government can be. That is what present day Republicans seem to be missing. There is a limit to how much you can cut taxes and shrink government before you hurt the public welfare.

If we had spent $100 million dollars to adequately build the levees around New Orleans as the Army Corps of Engineers suggested, we wouldn’t now be in the position of spending $100 billion to rescue the city and its inhabitants.

Grover Norquist is wrong. He can’t get rid of government -- the American people won’t let him. Ironically, all he and his cohorts are doing is making government more expensive for the rest of us by being short-sighted with the cuts they have advocated for (and that George W. Bush has agreed to and enthusiastically put in place).

Government is what we do when we all get together for a common purpose. And what we don’t do is leave one another behind. America is not that cruel. It’s about time conservatives understood that.