Katrina and Rita were monster storms, transforming the Gulf Coast from Texas to Mississippi into a flooded mass of debris and death. This unprecedented confluence of events (and by unprecedented I mean happens every few decades) has had a profound effect on our politicians. New Orleans and Louisiana officials put a halt to the corruption and apathy (for the time being); Mississippi and Texas officials forswore their vows of conservatism to declare that the region would be rebuilt no matter what the cost; and Georgia's Republican governor jumped on the conservation bandwagon.
Well, that's not all exactly true. But the hurricanes do have Republicans acting like Democrats, or trying to, just like the 9/11 attacks had, well, Republicans acting like Democrats (meddling in foreign affairs, giving the government more power). But in 2001 the Republicans said the Dems were acting like weaselly surrender-monkeys, so all was forgiven. In 2005, the Republicans are taking it on the chin, after failing to adequately respond to two natural disasters (In part because they happen to be the ones in power, and in part because of the deadly combination of Bush's cronyism and the Right's desire to "starve the beast"). Much has already been made of the Republican Congress's zealousness in doling out Brazillions of dollars, most recently to the hurricane victims. Rebuilding the Gulf Coast is a complex issue, and beyond the scope of this little article, so I'll leave to others the analysis of whether Congressional Republicans have become "Cut and Spend" liberals (Yes) and whether or not that's a bad thing.
On Friday, Georgia governor Sonny Perdue made his own foray into liberalism, calling for Georgia schools to close Monday and Tuesday (Free Login) to save fuel. I think I understand his thought process: school buses won't run for two of the days when fuel shortages may be worst, keeping gas prices reasonable until the refineries and pipelines can get going again after Rita. In addition, a lot of parents will probably decide to take a vacation day from work so they can watch the kids at home. Some parents might even telework. It's such a wonderful, simple idea that a third grader could have thought of it. A fifth grader, on the other hand, would have pointed out to the governor that not every one of his constituents has the flexibility to take off work at a moment's notice. How many parents out there cannot just leave work or afford two days of emergency childcare? How many businesses out there can't let their entire offices or warehouses have a vacation day? Consider some of our essential services - our police officers and firefighters work on Christmas and the Fourth of July, when their kids are out of school. But they have advance notice and many people in that situation are paid extra for the inconvenience. Governor Perdue, is it OK for half of the state's police force to "call in sick" for 2 days to save gas?
What happened here is that Perdue was struck with a liberal idea, but lacking a Liberal's foresight and long-term thinking, decided conservation could be accomplished in two days. Had he wanted to do this right, he would have worked to discourage driving and push through mass transit solutions. Instead, he has spent much of his term pushing through additional highways to the detriment of transit money. Had he wanted to do this right, he would have long ago raised the gas tax, which is currently one of the lowest in the nation. Instead, he temporarily repealed the gas tax in the wake of Katrina.
I have to stray for a minute to talk about what a boneheaded idea suspending the gas tax was.
1) Georgia has about 15 cents of tax on each gallon. Therefore, his idea was that suspending the gas tax should lower gas prices by 15 cents. However, many stations didn't completely do this, maybe lowering gas prices 13 or 14 cents. Besides, prices have been so crazy lately, jumping up and down 20 cents at a time, who's to say what portion is gas tax?
2) This stunt cost the state of Georgia over $75 million. This is money the state desperately needed for highway and transit projects. However, lets assume the state wants to donate $75 million dollars to the effort. Wouldn't it have been a lot more helpful to pay people to go fix the pipelines and refineries quicker? Or if you wanted to get really liberal about it, spent that money on water and food and housing for refugees?
3) In a time when gas stations were (are) regularly running out of fuel on a daily basis, why on earth would you want to encourage more driving? Keep the cost of fuel high so people don't take a 2,000 mile Labor Day trip in their 5 mpg SUV!
end of gas tax rant
These terrible twin tragedies are waking America up from its "screw the world and screw you" attitude it developed in 2001. Will our Republican leaders be able to adapt and truly become "compassionate conservatives"? Or will their penchant for ignoring the poor and unfortunate just become more apparent?