Generous Orthodoxy  




Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Thomas Friedman on governance, community and sacrifice

There is something troublingly self-indulgent and slothful about America today - something that Katrina highlighted and that people who live in countries where the laws of gravity still apply really noticed. It has rattled them - like watching a parent melt down.

That is certainly the sense I got after observing the Katrina debacle from half a world away here in Singapore - a city-state that, if it believes in anything, believes in good governance...When a subway tunnel under construction collapsed here in April 2004 and four workers were killed, a government inquiry concluded that top executives of the contracting company should be either fined or jailed.

The discipline that the cold war imposed on America, by contrast, seems to have faded...

Speaking of Katrina, Sumiko Tan, a columnist for the Sunday edition of The Straits Times in Singapore, wrote: "We were shocked at what we saw...the pictures of dead people left uncollected on the streets, armed looters ransacking shops, survivors desperate to be rescued, racial divisions - these were truly out of sync with what we'd imagined the land of the free to be...If America becomes so unglued when bad things happen in its own backyard, how can it fulfill its role as leader of the world?"

Janadas Devan, a Straits Times columnist, tried to explain to his Asian readers how the U.S. is changing. "Today's conservatives," he wrote, "differ in one crucial aspect from yesterday's conservatives: the latter believed in small government, but believed, too, that a country ought to pay for all the government that it needed.

"The former believe in no government, and therefore conclude that there is no need for a country to pay for even the government that it does have. ... [But] it is not only government that doesn't show up when government is starved of resources and leached of all its meaning. Community doesn't show up either, sacrifice doesn't show up, pulling together doesn't show up, 'we're all in this together' doesn't show up." (emphasis added)