Like a lot of Republicans, Sen. Rick Santorum of PA provided an initial response to the horrors of New Orleans last week that basically blamed the victims:
In a weekend interview with WTAE-TV about the victims of Hurricane Katrina, Santorum said: “You have people who don’t heed those warnings and then put people at risk as a result of not heeding those warnings. There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving.”
And like a lot of Republicans, Santorum is now furiously back-tracking, arguing that he was only talking about people with the means to leave New Orleans who refused to go.In the back-tracking race, Santorum is competing with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who drew fire for dealing with the New Orleans catastrophe by suggesting the city is not worth rebuilding. Now the ol’ wrestling coach is claiming he was only talking about how, not whether to rebuild New Orleans.It’s increasingly clear, as others have observed, that Katrina, and especially its impact on New Orleans, have provided something of a national Rorschach Test. Some people initially reacted with horror, concern and even guilt towards the victims; others immediately blamed them for leaving themslves in harm’s way and then behaving in a disorderly manner to survive. These reactions have not completely broken along partisan or ideological lines, but they have broken that way often enough to suggest that polarization is now affecting our basic sense of community.To put it baldly, the kind of people most affected by Katrina cannot count on the party running the federal government for anything other than the level of assistance dictated by public opionion. If Rick Santorum or Denny Hastert suddenly become serious advocates for serious relief aimed the affected populations, it will probably be because they failed that first Rorschach test, and are trying to compensate for it. Democrats have a clear responsibility, and a clear opportunity, to show they do indeed get it, and can do better in times of national crisis–the first time.