Politicians Pass The Blame In Wake Of Hurricane

Posted: September 08, 1992

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — As Hurricane Andrew gave its final shriek and retreated into the Everglades last week I knew we were really in trouble.

Within minutes my worst fears were realized. The tiny screen of my battery- powered TV overflowed with the unctuous faces of politicians taking credit and assigning blame, promising and demanding comfort.

The particulars varied but there were a few constant themes: Someone else should have predicted the hurricane earlier, prepared for it better, provided more aid for its victims.

Since local politicians had quicker access to Miami television, the guilty ''someone else" almost always turned out to be the federal government. One of Dade County's emergency planners actually seemed near tears as she wailed accusations against Washington, as though George Bush's evil henchmen were lying down in front of Miami-bound relief trains.

I watched in fascination, waiting to see if she would accuse the National Hurricane Center of hatching Andrew in a secret laboratory, but my television's batteries failed.

The hysterical hunt for the guilty in the wake of a natural disaster seems to be a peculiarly American phenomenon.

I've been in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico immediately after hurricanes and earthquakes and I've never heard the kind of accusatory whining that dominated the Miami airwaves for the past 10 days.

Only Americans seem to believe that they have constitutional protection against the forces of nature. Perhaps I should say, only American politicians believe it.

Out in the streets most people were too busy stringing tarpaulins over damaged roofs, clearing felled trees and cleaning up broken glass to worry about bureaucratic posturing.

Ordinary citizens weren't waiting for Bush. By Wednesday the southbound lanes of Interstate 95 were clogged with private relief convoys.

The Miami area has a number of toll roads, but immediately after the hurricane they were declared free. Since then the toll booths have been empty - but most drivers still stop.

At first I couldn't figure it out, but now it's clear to me: Citizens simply can't believe their government could do something so sensible.

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