I fear that the reaction to the federal government's "slow" response to the devastation left behind by Katrina will further undo this country's commitment to federalism, turning it into little more than a mere word. The relentless media bombardment against the federal "response" has several purposes, but one of the most important is to establish in the popular mind that the federal government is responsible for disaster relief. That notion stands federalism on its head. It is local governments who are the "first responders." The states stand ready to assist them. When their limits are reached, the federal government steps in to assist. The word is "assist," not direct.
What the local authorities in New Orleans seem to have "planned" for is that the federal government would take charge and direct the entire operation. The same is true of the state of Louisiana; it is not true of Alabama and Mississippi. Of course, the devastation was far beyond the ability of the city of New Orleans or the state of Louisiana to deal with; but that does not alleviate either of the responsibility to direct the resources and efforts of the federal government. (After all, are they not in a better position to do so since they live in the effected area?) It would appear that the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana believed they had no more responsibility than to step aside and offer moral support to the federal effort. It is instructive that the governor by the end of last week had hired the director of FEMA from the Clinton White House to facilitate communication with federal agencies. Apparently she saw no reason to do so before.
The response of government in New Orleans and Louisiana is not federalism, rather it reflects the dream of liberal elites who have long wanted the end of autonomous local and state governments that block their ability to direct all important matters from Washington, D.C. Pesky local governments have forced them over the last several decades to increasingly resort to the federal courts to undo "undesirable" political results desired by majorities in rural areas, towns, cities and states outside the elite-dominated cities of the northeast corridor and the west coast. Now Katrina will give them the ammunition they need to have Congress further the process along.
Look for the major media outlets supported by the liberal elties in the coming days to create an increasing drum-roll for the federal government to take responsibilty for all aspects of disaster relief, to include command and control. The pressure will be unbearable as the death toll rises in New Orleans. If they succeed, and I believe they have a better than even chance of doing so, local and state governments could ultimately become little more than patronage systems for division of resoures among favored groups of citizens. The important matters pertaining to the common good will be directed from Washington, D.C.