I'm sorry, this post is going to devolve into a real screed at the beginning of the next paragraph. Expect grammatical and rhetorical breakdown very soon.
I've defended Andrew Sullivan in the past, but his post here has pushed me over the edge. Yes, the people on the scenes were heroes as well as villains. But to say that the federal government failed and that the federal government is blaming them is hackery of the first order. So let me break it down.
If, god forbid, there was a major earthquake in Southern California right now, I would feel a moral responsibility to save what people I could, if only so that I could look myself in the mirror for the rest of my life. I pray that I would have the courage to go into an unstable house to pull out injured people. As one person, there is only a small amount that I can do, but I would still have to do that. If I found an occupied room completely blocked with debris heavier than I could move, then it would be my responsibility to find those who can do what I could. That the situation has progressed beyond my ability to fix does not absolve me of the responsibility to do what I could. Because I can not save them all does not mean that I don't have to save who I could.
Where do I look for the tools to save the people in the blocked room? The Feds? The State? Hardly. Those people could be dead a day after the earthquake. That leaves only the city with the ability to have the tools at hand that fast. It falls upon the city to make it possible for individuals to save yet more people. There would be no way for the city to save them all, but that does not mean they don't have to save the scores they can.
The state is farther away, but when it comes it will have more resources. When the state comes with what it has, it will do what it can to make it possible for individuals to save more people. While the state may not have the resources to save them all, it still has the responsibility to save the hundreds they can.
When the most distant federal level arrives, it will do what it can to make it possible for individuals to save the rest. By then, no one should be saying that nothing has been done, only that not enough had been done.
The preparation before the event is just as important. I have the responsibility to see myself prepared for what I need to do upon the event. The city must be prepared to do what it needs to do upon the event. So the state, and so the federal.
One deep breath later. Where was the planning at the city and state level? Why were there 500 + busses unused for getting people out of the city? There still would have been the immobile trapped in the city by the flood, but I would much rather be concerned about 35,000 to 40,000 people than 50,000 people trapped and drowning in the city. There was a plan to evacuate people to the Superdome, but no plan to have food or water stockpiled there? So now it is the fed gov's fuck up for not getting goods there and for the lawlessness that happened because there were no police there? The city did not perform to the level of its insufficient capabilities, and those who died because the city failed to do what it could are just as dead.
Once the fed gov gets to the scene, they should expect to face the lions share of the work, but there should have been people who were out of danger equal to the city's and state's ability to do so. Inability to do everything does not mean permission to do nothing.
So, Andrew, I agree, the blame the locals you see is just wrong, and that the locals were failed by their governments. The groundlevel locals you saw were failed by their city and state governments. The city and state failed to provide the means of getting people out of the way or to send what little they could, or even to have a plan of doing that. Once we can recognize that happened, then we can say that the fed gov failed to aid the excess fast enough. Too bad we will never be able to separate the dead who were failed by their city government, those who were failed by the state, and then those who died from fed failures. Put it that way, I don't want to think about who's to blame anymore.
Update: Video of a Fox News report that gives the most concise descriptions of what the State of Louisiana's responsibilities precisely were in allowing federal aid into the disaster area.