Tomorrow (22 September) the Christian Science Monitor has a story by Alexandra Marks entitled “A louder drumbeat for independent Katrina probe.” The Monitor is one of the nation’s ten best papers. But the article entirely misses the point.
Senators Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton also missed the same point. The article features their pictures with a caption indicating their "calls" for such a "commission."
Why do we have a Congress. Let’s review.
When the First Congress met in 1789, it had certain obvious duties. Write the first laws. Provide for the first officials and judges. Pass the first appropriations bills to pay for the government. But was that all?
Not on your tintype. Congress also had the duty of oversight. It had to make certain those officials and judges were doing their jobs correctly, and those funds were being spent as intended. All those duties have continued as obligations of every Congress since, for 216 years.
What does that mean for the “drumbeat” for yet another Commission, this time concerning Hurricane Katrina? It necessarily means that everyone beating that drum thinks that Congress is incompetent to carry out its oversight function. Hellooo. It’s football season. Consider this: The coach doesn’t bench a player and send in a substitute if the player is performing well on the field. And any Commission is, necessarily, a substitute for Congress.
The article begins, “A growing number of top disaster experts are adding their voices to calls for an independent, nonpartisan commission to examine what went wrong, as well as right, with the nation's response to the Katrina disaster.” It continues, with no visible sense of humor, “The disaster experts - mostly from academia - are staying clear of politics, but they insist that for a commission to be effective it must be made up not of politicians and lawyers but of people in the various fields of disaster response, from emergency management to federal policy.”
I’ve spent 12 years in higher education. I do not recall ever meeting an academic who was “staying clear of politics.” I have met a raft of academics who think their ideas on how to run the government are infinitely better than those of the dolts actually elected to Congress, a self-promoting bias which is rife in the quotes of “experts” in this article.
What is a Commission? Let’s use the 9/11 Commission as an example. A Commission consists of has-beens and never-wases, the flotsam and jetsam of the Democrat and Republican Parties. But, most importantly, it is created because a critical mass of the nation’s leaders have decided that on a particular issue, Congress is too lazy, too dumb, or too biased to conduct the oversight.
Even if that is true, appointing yet another Commission just papers over the basic problem. If Congress truly is incompetent to do its job, the better course is to insist that it do its duty anyway. Perhaps it will rise to the occasion. If not, then like training a puppy who makes a mess on the carpet, the voters can rub congressional noses in their mess. They might see fit to elect better Members of Congress in the next election.
The long term political health of the Republic will be far better served by insisting that Congress do its job of oversight, on Katrina or any other subject, than to create another Commission to do the job that Congress is paid to do. The Monitor jumped right over this basic point.