Sunday, March 26, 2006
A Surprising Katrina Legacy: Just Say No to Public Service
The brutal fury of Hurricane Katrina will be remembered for generations. But the destructive power unleashed by the mighty storm is already overshadowed by the ripples that Katrina left in its wake. Loss of life, property damage, dislocation, crumbling infrastructure and exposure of inexcusable poverty are a few of the obvious ripples of Katrina that will have long lasting impact. I’m very confident in the ability of our country to appropriately mitigate the effects of the obvious ripples. No country in the world can match our responsiveness and resiliency in the face of disaster.
However, I’m not so confident we will even recognize the more subtle ripples of Katrina. I’m as blind as anyone when it comes to recognizing subtlety, but I am aware of one ripple that has serious long term consequences that will be very difficult to mitigate. It’s the ripple of blame that continues to flow from Katrina.
The blame game has been underway for more than six months. The original scapegoat for Katrina, Michael Brown, the publicly disgraced former head of FEMA, was recently given the opportunity to spread the blame around. His testimony in congressional hearings, amplified and embellished by the media, cast the spotlight of blame on his former boss, Michael Chertoff, head of the Department of Homeland Security. By all accounts, Chertoff now has his head on the chopping block and will likely be out of a job by the time this commentary is published.
It’s obvious to everyone that the response to Katrina was inadequate. But an inadequate response is not necessarily a willfully negligent response or even an incompetent response. The difference is a matter of context and perspective.
It’s not surprising that politicians have ignored the context to score political points. As shameful as it is, we’ve learned to expect that of politicians. But shame on broadcast and cable news programs for not putting the Katrina response in perspective. By any measure, this was a storm of biblical proportions. No government in the world has stand-by capability at the ready to deal with something like Katrina. No government should even be expected to have such resources in reserve and deployable anywhere along a very extensive coastline within the few days of warning available before a hurricane lands.
The truth is that our government and its employees have the assets and skills appropriate to manage the risk presented by hurricanes and other natural disasters. Just look at the track record. Year in and year out, federal, state and local agencies professionally and heroically assist communities preparing for and recovering from natural disasters. But once in a great while there is going to be a monster storm or event that no government is fully prepared to handle. Hurricane Katrina was just such an event.
Brown and Chertoff certainly made mistakes. And we should identify and learn from those mistakes. But such lessons can and should be learned through a thoughtful and professional review of the response in light of the unusual challenges presented by Katrina. The broadcast and cable news frenzy unleashed by Katrina is anything but thoughtful and professional. It is nothing more than an endless series of self-serving commercials to convince us that the media has our back when it comes to protecting us from politicians and government incompetence. Forget about fair and balanced reporting. Finding scapegoats is far more entertaining than reporting context and providing accurate and thoughtful perspective.
It might be great entertainment in the short run, but it will play out as a tragedy in the long run. It’s sad enough that a few public servants are publicly humiliated and will lose their jobs. It’s even sadder still that thousands of men and women who worked heroically in the face of insurmountable Katrina odds are also indirectly implicated as incompetent public servants. But the saddest legacy of all is that in the future good men and women who are desperately needed in public service will not heed the call to serve. When Uncle Sam comes calling, anyone who has witnessed this blame game would be well advised to just say no.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
A House Divided: South Dakota Abortion Ban Exposes Pro-Life Rift
The pro-life movement is clearly on a roll. Months of kicking and screaming from pro-abortion forces could not prevent presumably pro-life justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito from joining the ranks of the Supreme Court. Of course nobody knows for sure how the two will vote when an abortion case comes before them, but South Dakota wasted no time in starting a ball rolling that will eventually put the pro-life credentials of Roberts and Alito to the test.
The South Dakota state legislature recently passed legislation that will eliminate all abortions in the state except those required to save the life of the mother. The legislators know full well that this legislation is in outright conflict with the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that allowed abortion for virtually any reason in the first six months of pregnancy. If the governor signs the legislation, its legality will be immediately challenged and the stalking horse will begin its long journey to an almost inevitable appearance on the docket of the Supreme Court.
I ought to be ecstatic. Anyone who reads my commentary knows that nobody is more pro-life and anti-abortion than I. I am thrilled that the process is underway, but I am also apprehensive about the outcome. And it’s not because I fear the Court will overturn the ban. In fact, I think it’s likely. We are still at least one vote short of a pro-life majority on the Court. But even if it gets shot down, the public debate generated will be good for the country in the long run.
However, my enthusiasm is somewhat short of ecstatic because the whole country is about to find out that the pro-life movement is seriously divided. One camp supports the South Dakota ban which only allows abortions to preserve the life of the mother. The other camp supports an abortion ban that allows exceptions for cases of rape and incest, as well as to preserve the life of the mother. I’m personally in the South Dakota camp, but the camp supporting exceptions for rape and incest is substantial. If you follow abortion polls you already know that an abortion ban reaches majority support only if exceptions for rape and incest are allowed.
This division is serious in the long run. Neither pro-life camp on its own represents a majority. And majority support for pro-life legislation is important. If Roe v. Wade is eventually overturned, each individual state will determine its own legislative course on abortion. I hate to say it, but if those of us who do not support exceptions for rape and incest don’t concede and join with our pro-life colleagues who do, we will soon be engaged in a family argument that will delay or even torpedo pro-life progress. We got a small glimpse of the family struggle ahead of us when President Bush announced this week that he does not support the South Dakota ban, but would be in favor of a ban that includes exceptions for rape and incest. His comments ignited quite an uproar in the pro-life community. You can imagine how uproarious it will be when this debate gets serious and both branches of the family are fully engaged.
That would be a real tragedy for the more than 1 million babies that are aborted in this country each and every year. Personally, I’m willing to compromise on this point because only a relative handful of abortions are performed because of rape or incest. We ought to get together now as a united pro-life movement and agree to support bans on abortion that allow for exceptions in the cases of rape and incest. With a united front, we will be able to move more quickly. And the sooner the better. An abortion ban that includes exceptions for rape and incest would save over 1 million lives each and every year. Then those of us who don’t support abortion in cases of rape and incest can continue that fight, knowing that in the meantime we have already done our part to save millions of lives that would have otherwise been lost while we were wasting precious time participating in a family debate.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Rare: Another Entry in the Clinton Dictionary
During President Clinton’s political career it was obvious he was using a different dictionary than the rest of America. You might recall two of the most memorable entries in the Clinton Dictionary:
sex-ual rela-tions, n. 1. as in “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky…”
is, v. 1. as in “it depends on what the meaning of the word is, is….”
Recent events lead me to believe that Bill isn’t the only one studying the pages of the Clinton Dictionary. I think it has become a family heirloom.
Sen. Hillary Clinton has been widely quoted in the past few months stating that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” Most political observers believe that Hillary has shrewdly modified her pro-abortion record, reaching out to red voters as she prepares for a run at the presidency in 2008. Well, there is no doubt she is shrewd and is attempting to reach out to red voters. But red voters should be wary of accepting the extended hand. They are sure to find that sleight-of-hand is what Hillary really offers them.
Why am I so cynical? Well, let’s count just a few of the many reasons we all ought to be cynical about the likelihood that Sen. Clinton means rare in the sense that the word is defined in the dictionaries we rely on.
First, Hillary has been outspoken in her support of abortion throughout her entire adult life. One quote among many will serve as a representative example of her true feelings:
“I am and always have been pro-choice, and that is not a right any of us should take for granted. There are a number of forces at work in our society that would try to turn back the clock and undermine a woman’s right to chose, and [we] must remain vigilant.” (New York Times, Jan 22, 2000)
Next, there is her voting record. In five years in the Senate, Sen. Clinton has voted for every pro-abortion bill and against every pro-life bill that crossed her desk. Her Senate report card is 100 percent pro-abortion. Valedictorian. Top of the class. She even voted to preserve the practice of partial-birth abortion.
And finally, the methods she proposes — sex education, counseling and contraception — won’t even come close to making abortion rare. Hillary and other proponents of this approach argue that it will reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and therefore the need for abortion. Theoretically it makes sense, but unfortunately theory doesn’t stand a chance against raging hormones. Don’t get me wrong. I think we should do everything we can in the way of education and contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy. But I don’t believe such efforts are going to significantly decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies in America.
We’ve been teaching sex education in our schools, even handing out free condoms in many of them, for decades. I’m sure these important efforts have prevented many unwanted pregnancies. However, approximately 1.3 million abortions are still performed each and every year in this country. Can sex education courses be improved enough to make a significant dent in the number of unwanted pregnancies? Can condoms and other forms of birth control be any more accessible than they are today? I think we have likely gained nearly all of the benefits these programs have to offer. And even if we made some improvement, how much more impact would it have? It would take nearly a 25 percent improvement to drop the number of abortions to 1 million per year. I don’t think a 25 percent improvement is likely, and even if achieved, 1 million abortions is not a number most of us would classify as rare.
I believe that as long as the safety net of abortion is available, attention in sex education class and rigorous adherence to birth control will be considered optional. Sure, it is inconvenient to have an abortion, but apparently, when hormones are raging, the inconvenience of abortion is unfortunately forgotten in the pleasure of the moment. The only way to truly make abortion rare is to make it unavailable for purposes of convenience. If abortion was limited to cases of preserving the mother’s life, rape, and incest, it truly would be rare. And the risk of an unwanted pregnancy with no safety net to break the fall would certainly focus greater attention on sex education and the need for contraception.
But that isn’t what Hillary has in mind. Next time you hear her say that abortion should be safe, legal and rare, remember she’s getting her definitions from the Clinton Dictionary. What she really has in mind is that abortion should be available anytime, anyplace, for any reason. That might be rare in her book, but not mine.