Leading article: America begins to ask some serious questions

Share
Related Topics

Hurricane Katrina has posed some fundamental ideological questions. Most obvious is the proper balance between state and federal government. Americans are asking why federal help did not arrive earlier. After the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, federal aid arrived within two days. A century later, New Orleans had to wait five days before an all-out relief operation was launched. The more information emerges, the more irresponsible the federal authorities appear. The Bush administration cut funding from New Orleans levee maintenance projects. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency was undermined by the creation of President Bush's new Department for Homeland Security. After Katrina, Americans appear to want a leadership that can make federal government work again. But can the Republican Party with its narrow emphasis on "small government" fulfil that role?

The other question posed by Katrina concerns the social fabric of America. The vast majority of those who have suffered and died in New Orleans were poor and black. We now know that a third of the predominantly black population of New Orleans lived below the poverty line. According to some prominent black politicians, this is the reason the relief operation was so slow. This does not appear to be a minority view. Indeed, the disaster in New Orleans appears to have provoked wider concern at the social condition of black people throughout America. There are ghettos not unlike New Orleans in many American cities. After witnessing the appalling scenes of last week, an unusual number of voices in America are beginning to demand change.

For decades, the American right has preached the superiority of self-help and discipline to social spending. And the Bush administration has gone about implementing this philosophy. Had Katrina not come along to shatter the routine of Washington politics, the agenda for Congress this week would have been cutting the Medicare programme. But are Americans beginning to seek different solutions?

President Bush is now under pressure as never before. His opinion poll ratings are low. And it is widely believed that he responded badly to this latest crisis. Pressure on the President to make a conciliatory gesture to the mainstream by appointing centrists - rather than right-wingers - to the Supreme Court will grow. Yet there will also be pressure from within the Republican Party for the conservative revolution to continue. With Supreme Court judges appointed for life, here is a political choice that could influence US society for a generation.

American politics is at a crossroads. Many preconceptions are being battered by natural catastrophes and the consequences of human folly. The question now is whether President Bush is capable of responding to this new mood, or whether he is to be swept away by the floodwaters of ideological intransigence.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent