Column: Blame conservative thought

By Matt Simmons

Hurricane Katrina has left the Gulf coast devastated. Thousands are feared dead, homes are destroyed and lawlessness has gripped New Orleans. The tragic situation on the Gulf Coast, however, cannot be blamed on nature alone. The dominant political ideology in this country has exacerbated the problem.

This ideology is not racism, hate or greed. I am talking about good old Ronald Reagan conservatism. This ideology has permeated our country far too long, and as we now see has weakened our national cohesion and our ability to meet the needs of all Americans.

Conservative ideology promotes disregarding and alienating the poor and disadvantaged. Republicans use every opportunity they can to demonize minorities and those in poverty. They have effectively silenced the poor by consistently supporting laws that hinder their voting rights. The fact that officials reacted so slowly to a disaster that is affecting mostly poor black people is a byproduct of this same ideology. In this country, conservative leadership promotes a culture of individualism so extreme that it reaches the point of state-sanctioned selfishness. Many conservatives have no sense of community or responsibility for the less fortunate. Republicans are more likely to condemn victims of extreme poverty rather than sympathize with them. Under such leadership, this country has abandoned the most vulnerable members of society. Why should we expect them to efficiently handle a natural disaster that victimizes the same people?

More importantly, their lack of concern for the poor is what created this mess in the first place. Many of those who remained in New Orleans do not own cars and have no access to public transportation. Maybe if the people in New Orleans were not dirt poor they would have the means to be able to heed the warnings and evacuate the city. The right wing of this country has aggravated the effects of poverty by continually nibbling away at the safety net that aids the poor, while doing nothing about the lowest inflation-adjusted minimum wage in nearly fifty years.

The most crippling consequence of this conservative ideology is the way our resources are used. Conservatives support spending money to “liberate” foreign countries, rather than ensuring the safety and security of American citizens. Our involvement in Iraq has stretched us thin in terms of resources and funds. An editorial that appeared in The New York Times estimated that 30 percent of our National Guard and 50 percent of its resources are preoccupied in Iraq. I always believed that the National Guard should guard the nation, not secure a foreign country. Furthermore, the funds that are being spent in Iraq could have been used to ensure the safety of New Orleans. Last year, the Army Corp of Engineers requested millions to fix the levees and secure the city, but they were denied. The administration and the Congress chose not to make the security of New Orleans a priority.

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Aside from the war, other conservative priorities have enhanced this problem. The conservative goal of giving more power to the states put control in the hands of Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco. The top priority of this incompetent woman is making sure officers “shoot to kill” when they face looters who are in desperate need of food, clothing and supplies. The fact is conservatives have decided to give billions of dollars in tax cuts to the wealthy, rather than making sure our states can handle emergencies. Conservatives are more concerned with capital formation and economic efficiency than they are with ensuring that every citizen is taken care of.

While the American people are so obsessed with values, conservative policies are beginning to damage the security of our nation. Conservatives cannot say a word about the federal government’s inability to handle this problem. When you support a party that advocates a weak federal government and allocates money to those who need it the least, you can point the finger at only one person – yourself.

Matt Simmons is a senior in LAS. His column appears every Thursday. He can be reached at [email protected].