On the one year anniversary of Katrina, the news media is rightfully remembering all the victims and recalling the Bush Administration's bureaucratic bungling. They are right to do so -- in fact, they should be doing even more of this. But there's more to the story.
We need to be upfront about the fact that in an era of global warming, natural disasters like Katrina are going to happen much more often than in the past -- and today our government isn't ready to respond. A real response means fixing FEMA, but it means so much more. Just as we have seen entitlements grow to a bigger and bigger slice of the federal budget, we will also see disaster relief grow over the coming years so that it swallows more of the budget pie with each passing year. That's the conclusion that Elaine Kamarck, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, reaches in her superb article in the upcoming fall issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. In all the gallons of ink spilled about Katrina, it is a point that has not yet been made -- but it is vitally important. The fall issue of Democracy isn't out until mid-September, but we've put a special sneak peak of Dr. Kamarck's article up here.
Dr. Kamarck doesn't just diagnose the problem, she offers some solutions.
One is to start setting aside money on a regular basis into a "rainy day" fund that deals with those times when the rain really does come down -- and brings 100 mph wind with it.
But speaking of "lock boxes," the larger solution is to get serious about combating climate change. Elaine Kamarck and I both had the great honor of working for Al Gore in the White House. It was an experience that changed my life. I watched him -- back in the mid-1990s -- as every smart person in Democratic politics told him that talking about global warming was a political loser. That voters didn't care and powerful groups in the Democratic Party saw environmental protections as a threat to American jobs. But, no matter how much the late night comedians mocked him, he would go on and on speaking to just about every audience he could about the importance of fighting global warming. Don't tell me that political courage is dead in American politics. Al Gore taught me a lesson about what it means to be a leader that I will never forget.
When I went to see his movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," I walked out into the lobby and my wife, Stephanie, asked me what I thought about the film. I said I had seen the presentation before. Long before it was a power point on the big screen, it was a series of slides and flip charts that then-Vice President Gore trudged around the country. No one seemed to listen then. Hopefully, on this Katrina anniversary, if we are to escape the fate that Dr. Kamarck outlines so persuasively and originally, we will begin to listen now.