authority v. responsibility

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Thursday, 29 September 2005

Noonan How lucky we are to have such a sharp mind and such a talented writer all wrapped up in one cute little package called Peggy Noonan.

Katrina revealed . . . a change in the relation of the individual and those who would govern him. . . .

No one took responsibility, but there was plenty of authority. People in authority sent the lost to the Superdome and the Convention Center. People in authority blocked the bridges out of town. People in authority tried to confiscate guns after the looting was over.

And they did things like this: The day before hurricane Rita hit Texas, last Friday, I saw on TV something that disturbed me. It was not the usual scene of crashing waves and hardy reporters being blown sideways by wind gusts. It was a fat Texas guy swimming in the waves off Galveston. He’d apparently decided the high surf was a good thing to jump into, so he went for a prehurricane swim. Two cops saw him, waded into the surf and arrested him. When I saw it the guy was standing there in orange trunks being astonished as the cops put handcuffs on him and hauled him away.

I thought: Oh no, this is isn’t good. This is authority, not responsibility.

You’d have to be crazy, in my judgment, to decide you were going to go swim in the ocean as a hurricane comes. But in the America where I grew up, you were allowed to be crazy. You had the right. Sometimes you were crazy and survived whatever you did. Sometimes you didn’t, and afterwards everyone said, "He was crazy. "

. . .  Government has real duties in disaster. Maintaining the peace is a primary one. But if we demand that our government protect us from all the weather all the time, if we demand that it protect us from rain and hail, if we make government and politicians pay a terrible price for not getting us out of every flood zone and rescuing us from every wave, we’re going to lose a lot more than we gain. If we give government all authority then we are giving them all power.

Governments always start out saying they’re going to help, and always wind up pushing you around. They cannot help it. They say they want to help us live healthily and they mean it, but it ends with a guy in Queens getting arrested for trying to have a Marlboro Light with his Bud at the neighborhood bar. We’re hauling the parents of obese children into court. The government has increasing authority over our health, and these children are not healthy. Smokers, the fat, drinkers of more than two drinks per night, insane swimmers in high seas . . .

I want to mention the media’s part in this. This week it was their turn in the barrel. They reported rumors and hyped the event by going with every story that came by–rapes in the Superdome, people shooting at helicopters, armed gangs roving the streets, etc. . .

TV people like to say they only report the story, they aren’t the story. But with their constant alarms and agitation they are contributing to a bad story. It is a story of a people who are encouraged to demand that the government make them safe, when the government will not make them safe, and the people know it deep in their hearts. Still, they give the government more authority in the hope that it will take responsibility.

The two cops who arrested the guy swimming in the waves before the hurricane hit Texas: they did it in front of cameras. They probably did it because of the cameras. Big media is watching. Big government has to act.

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4 Responses to “authority v. responsibility”

  1. Rusty Says:

    Maybe its just an oversight, but I noticed there is an obvious lack of recognition of Delay’s indictment on the blog. Here is an interesting post I found at You can check there for the latest.

    Will Tennessee GOP Denounce Delay?
    U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas has been indicted for conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme, forcing him to temporarily step down from his leadership post. DeLay, one of the GOP’s leading national figures, dismissed the charges as baseless and politically motivated. DeLay’s indictment reverberated in federal and state political circles across the country. In Tennessee, the Democratic Party urged the Republican Party, which has called for the resignation of indicted lawmakers, to call for DeLay’s resignation from Congress. The Texas Republican vowed to fight the charges.

  2. Bob K Says:

    Hey Rusty,
    You’re right. It was an oversight. If you had bothered to do more than to just post a drive-by blogging-point, you would have seen that the thread immediately prior to this one speaks about the very issue you so irrelevantly brought up here.

  3. Katherine Coble Says:

    I love Peggy Noonan.

    This column of hers has made me feel particularly rewarded for two things: my libertarian politics and my refusal to watch any televised Katrina coverage.

    It seems that America has worked up a high lather and asked the Government to step in and hose it down…all when there is no need for either.

  4. John Hutcheson Says:

    I agree that there has been a lot of ‘hurricane porn’ on nearly every network, but I don’t want the good reporting and the good reporters to be brushed with the same tar as the porno-byters. The press did a great job of pointing out the disparity between what government officials were saying and the truth. And I am talking about gov’t officials on all levels, not just the FEMA folks.

    On an individual personal responsibilty level, it is hard to argue with Noonan’s thesis. On a ‘corporate’ wholesale basis, who else but the government can support the re-building of such a devastated area?