"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." Theodore Roosevelt
Hurricane Katrina has prompted Americans to donate more than $700 million to charity, reports the Chronicle of Philanthropy. So many suckers, so little foresight. Government has been shirking its basic responsibilities since the '80s, when Ronald Reagan sold us his belief that the sick, poor and unlucky should no longer count on "big government" to help them, but should rather live and die at the whim of contributors to private charities. The Katrina disaster, whose total damage estimate has risen from $100 to $125 billion, marks the culmination of Reagan's privatization of despair.
The Red Cross and its cohorts are letting lazy, incompetent and corrupt politicians off the hook, and so are their donors. It's ridiculous, but people evidently need to be reminded that the United States is not only the world's wealthiest nation but the wealthiest society that has existed anywhere, ever. The U.S. government can easily pick up the tab for people inconvenienced by bad weather--if helping them is a priority. That goes double for Katrina, a disaster caused by the government's conscious decision to eliminate the $50 million pittance needed to improve New Orleans' levees.
Disaster relief is too important to be left to private fundraisers, with their self-sustaining fundraising expenses, administrative overhead (nine percent for the Red Cross) and their parochial, often religious, agendas. It's also way too expensive. In the final analysis, after the floodwaters have receded and the poor neighborhoods of New Orleans have been razed under eminent domain, major charities will be lucky if they've managed to raise one percent of the total cost of Katrina. Congress, recognizing the reality that only the federal government possesses the means to deal with the calamity, has already allocated $58 billion--over 70 times the amount raised by charities--to flood relief along the Gulf of Mexico. As Bush says, that's only a "down payment."
Granted, in terms of popularity of likelihood of success, trying to make a case against giving money to charities compares to lobbying against puppies. The impulse to donate, after all, is rooted in our best human traits. As we watched New Orleanians die of thirst, disease and anarchic violence in the face of Bush Administration disinterest and local government incompetence, millions of us did the only thing we thought we could to do to help: cut a check or click a PayPal button. Tragically, that generosity feeds into the mindset of the sinister ideologues who argue that government shouldn't help people--the very mindset that caused the levee break that turned Katrina into a holocaust and led to official unresponsiveness. And it is already setting the stage for the next avoidable disaster.
I'm not about to pull the Red Cross banner just yet, but after reading this piece, the thought has crossed my mind.