Scapegoats Can Wait

New Orleans evacuees talk with job counselors at a job fair, Houston, Texas, 9-7-06
This commentary was written by's Dick Meyer.

This isn't going to be a popular column so I may as well get straight to the point: if the flawed response to the unexpected and unprecedented natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina reflects poorly on our country, so does the unrelenting and unforgiving search for scapegoats, incompetents and culprits.

The trickle of finger pointing that I complained about last week has become a tsunami of truculent 'I-told-you-so' s. If the energy, wiliness and zeal politicians and chatterers are investing in the blame game went instead to the continuing — actually endless — relief challenges, we'd be getting more done. I mean that.

Instead, with New Orleans still soggy and displaced thousands in agony, Washington is moving on — to hearings, post-mortems and probably commissions. If that stuff worked, wouldn't, by definition, the response to Katrina have been more successful?

Contrary to what our politicians tend to teach us, outrage does not equal empathy. Nor is it the same as helpful action.

We're still smack dab in the middle of this crisis. Uprooted, devastated poor people are not helped by editorials insisting this calamity was caused by Bush's callousness to the poor, or Republican politicians berating Louisiana's Democratic officials, or administration officials defending some of the clear cut blunders or the House Minority Leader saying of President Bush, "Oblivious, in denial, dangerous."

Half the people who read this will think Pelosi was too easy on Bush. The other half think Pelosi is oblivious and dangerous. Not even the most costly and massive natural disaster in American history can begin to bridge this ugly chasm in the political class.

Regular Americans — as opposed to the political class — are responding to this crisis with generosity, contributions, time and true empathy. They aren't inspired to that by finger pointers and sultans of snarky sound bites. The argument that endless condemnations by politicians are moving the bureaucracy to get things done simply doesn't wash. Americans are moved not by rhetoric but by reality. They see the pictures on television.