Monday, February 27, 2006
The difference between Liberals and Conservatives.
The picture here comes from this article about Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Now, I recognize the fact that 230,000 Louisiana evacuees went to Texas, the largest number of any state outside of Louisiana itself (of course cities like Baton Rouge and Shreveport were, and remain, packed to the gills), although ultimately there were 22 states (including Arizona) that housed Katrina evacuees.
I have to say though that I find the whole picture here offensive. Maybe it's because as I've had occasion to blog on this week, the job is far from finished, and people are still suffering a great deal. Maybe it's because of the failures of the Federal government that have made the ordeal harder on those who lived through it. Maybe it's because even with thousands still missing, the official toll of 1300 in Louisiana is almost certainly way below the actual figure (see this post). It may be that telling residents of a state which has suffered the unprecendented losses that Louisiana has this past year (a graphic in the USA Today last week detailing third quarter income growth contrasted the nation's highest economic growth rate with the 25% drop in average personal income in Louisiana between 2004-2005) and which will soon have to start releasing criminals onto the streets and closing schools just to make ends meet, that 'you owe us,' is selfish to the point of being insulting. But I don't think any of these reasons in and of themselves are why I feel offended. It's because of something which cuts to the core of why I'm a liberal. I don't believe that when giving people a hand, it is right to 'take names.' If they can help you out later, that's great. If not, then it is still great that you were able to help them.
Franklin Roosevelt explained it best while speaking before Congress about the proposed 'Lend Lease' bill on March 11, 1941. Before that, England, then at mortal danger from the Nazi menace (which Roosevelt and a few others could see would not be satisfied until it achieved world domination), was required to purchase armaments on a 'cash and carry' basis-- laid out by isolationsts in Congress (nearly all Republicans, together with some Democrats led by Burton Wheeler), that required England to physically pay or make arrangements to pay for everything they bought, even in an emergency. Of course, with U-Boats sinking enormous amounts of food, armaments and other material, England was, as Churchill himself wrote after the war in his Pulitzer prize winning History of the Second World War, barely hanging on, and had already spent nearly all of their money just to survive. In proposing the new program, in which American factories would produce armament and other war material which would be 'lent' to England, not for pay, but simply to be returned after the war, he said,
"Suppose my neighbor's home catches fire, and I have a length of garden hose four or five hundred feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up with his hydrant, I may help him to put out his fire...I don't say to him before that operation, "Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it."...I don't want $15--I want my garden hose back after the fire is over. "
Exactly. And after World War II was over, the arms were mostly scrapped to produce steel for rebuilding Europe-- which the United States shelled out billions more for, and have never been paid back. But that's OK-- we are lucky that unlike England and the rest of Europe, our territory was largely spared the ravages of war. The Marshall plan was as visionary as Lend Lease-- and like Lend Lease, it was miserly conservatives who were most likely to oppose it.
Now, I am blessed to live in a state, and in an area within that state, that has few natural disasters. Because of this, I am sure that the taxes that I pay that go to disaster relief, won't come back here. Now, I could have one of two reactions to this fact. I could grumble about it and ask my congressman to cut taxes and take it out of disaster relief budgets (as at least one Republican member of the Arizona congressional delegation, Jeff Flake from CD 1 did, standing out as one of ten, all Republicans, voting against even the early Katrina relief bills, instead suggesting that the money would be better spent on tax cuts), or I could be thankful that I live in a place without disasters, feel compassion towards those who are less fortunate in that regard and remember that our nation is called the UNITED States of America. It seems that some have forgotten that somewhere along the way. If Louisiana needs help, I don't mind my taxes going there. If Florida needs help (as they still do from the 2004 round of hurricanes, which was never really paid for), I don't mind my taxes going there. If Mississippi needs help (had the New Orleans levees not failed, we would be reminded as more than an afterthought that 100 miles of Mississippi's coast was annihilated and hundreds killed there by the storm) I don't mind my taxes going there. For that matter, if Texas needs help (say, to pay for the costs of housing Katrina and Rita evacuees) then I don't mind my taxes going there.
Besides, if we want to keep score, I would only ask that Texas pay for the damage done to the economy due to the collapse of Enron, which Texas regulators failed to keep close enough tabs on before it happened.
But I'm not asking for that, even though the Texas utility commission had more control over Enron than Louisiana did over Katrina. Because I believe that the government, when functioning properly, is there to help those who need it, and not send them a bill afterwards. And if there is fault here, it is towards those who for at least the last generation have been doing everything they can to starve, restrict, limit and dismantle the government programs that should serve as a safety net.