It's easy to bash Washington at times of immense frustration and stress, and the massive flooding around Baton Rouge and Lafayette certainly qualifies as immensely frustrating and stressful, not to mention tragic and heartbreaking.
Such a reaction is often warranted, but not always. And, I'd argue, not now.
Comparisons with 2005's Hurricane Katrina may be inevitable, but one big difference is that this time, the feds reacted promptly and efficiently.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says he's not concerned that President Barack Obama has not …
Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has a better view than just about anyone, went on MSNBC Thursday night and told viewers that "I don't feel forgotten by the federal government…We have what we need from the federal government."
Two of his close allies, both Republicans who were around during Katrina, echoed the Democratic governor's sentiments Thursday.
"This is not your 2005 FEMA,” said Edwards' Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, a former state senator, secretary of state and lieutenant governor. “They have been much more responsive.”
Senate President John Alario of Westwego added that "FEMA has been around since the first drop of rain hit the ground.”
Now, you could say that Edwards was getting political and defending President Barack Obama from criticism that he hadn't cut short his vacation to see the destruction in person (the White House announced Friday that Obama would visit the area Tuesday). But the truth is that the governor's got a point.
Edwards and his allies say they've been in daily communication with the White House. FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, an emergency-response specialist who before joining the Obama administration oversaw Florida's disaster responses, has been here. So has Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. Obama started issuing disaster declarations quickly, which frees up federal resources and gets the ball rolling on longer term needs. Inspectors are on the ground.
It's a miserable time for the many thousands affected, but a faulty response isn't making it more miserable.
Compare that to the immediate aftermath of Katrina.
Eleven years ago, the federal government was caught flatfooted by a storm that had been predicted to cause widespread devastation; that the damage came as much from defective federal levees as from the hurricane itself doesn't change the fact that the feds should have been ready to jump into action.
Michael Brown and Michael Chertoff, Fugate and Johnson's predecessors, carried a toxic relationship into the situation, we later learned. And George W. Bush's political operation tried to shift public blame for delays and bad information onto Gov. Kathleen Blanco's administration, which was also overwhelmed, even as people were still fighting for their lives.
Like so many Louisianans, the federal government learned much from that disaster, and is applying those lessons now.
That doesn't mean there will necessarily be smooth sailing ahead. Rebuilding will be a long, difficult slog, and resources will invariably fall short of the vast need.
Congress will have to approve any money for individual aid beyond what FEMA offers automatically — which, for the many residents who didn't think they needed flood insurance, tops out at $33,000 and usually amounts to much less.
Louisiana's relatively junior delegation isn't exactly well positioned to push for more. Just two current members, U.S. Sen. David Vitter and U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, were in Congress in 2005; Vitter's about to retire so he's a lame duck, and Boustany is running for his seat, so he may or may not be back in January. Former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, long the state's point person on FEMA matters, lost her reelection bid in 2014. U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, now the House Majority Whip, has considerable stature, but the Republicans in charge of both houses are by nature skeptical of new spending. Plus it's an election year, so Congress won't be spending much time in Washington this fall.
The state will surely also seek to have its 25 percent match for its own immediate costs reduced to 10 percent; we'll all have to keep our fingers crossed on that one.
But that's the future. Right now things are working the way they should, and Louisiana is benefiting from the lack of drama. Sure, Obama's visit might bring some needed publicity along with a bunch of logistical complications, and the attention may help put pressure on lawmakers to open their wallets.
But even if the president were to be photographed flying Air Force One over Louisiana, the image would not become a symbol of his administration's underlying detachment and failure, as it was for Bush. If he were to commend Fugate for doing a heck of a job, I don't think many people would find reason to scoff.
There's been less finger-pointing so far, and less cause for it. Kind of a relief, don't you think?