Kevin Drum wants to say that the difference between conservatives and liberals is that liberals believe in funding organizations like FEMA or the Corps of Engineers and conservatives don't. Nuh-huh. Real conservatives believe that the state should do a few things that no one else can do - defense, decent public education, police, law and order among the most obvious - and leave the rest to individuals. Funding FEMA and having a superb civil defense are very much part of conservatism's real core. It's when government decides to reshape society, redistribute wealth, socially engineer, and take over functions that the private sector can do just as well that conservatives draw the line. The reason I'm mad as hell over Katrina is precisely because I'm a conservative and this kind of thing is exactly what government is for. Bush in this sense is not now and never has been a conservative.Like Drum, who responds to Sullivan in an update, I don't know what the "real core" of conservatism is. I note that good rhetoric can be squeezed out of such ideas. I'm the real conservative. No, I am. I don't personally care that much about that sort of debate. I don't define myself as a conservative and am continually bemused by the tendency of other people to call me conservative. But I do agree with Sullivan that this is what government is for — especially, I would add, when you're talking about restoring order.
But I note that Sullivan doesn't address the line between the federal government and state and local government. Basic order is the responsibility of the city, which failed catastrophically here. The state also has an important backup role, which it seems to have performed badly. The role of the federal government in funding public projects is more complex. I think Drum is right that liberals are more willing to keep taxes high and fund more projects. And I tend to think the federal government should be blamed for not spending the money to solve the glaring disaster-waiting-to-happen that was New Orleans.