Thinking about the unthinkable

Once again, President Bush is trying to dodge blame for a major failure of public policy ? in this case, failure over years to upgrade New Orleans? flood control systems, compounded by failure to move fast once it was clear that disaster was in the making. The President wants to appeal to our sense of fairness. After all, he?s just a human being with limitations just like the rest of us. He asks how anybody could have anticipated the failure of the levees? Just as he once asked who could have anticipated that terrorists would use aircraft as guided missiles, as they did on September 11th? And just as he asked whether anyone could have foretold the real costs of war with Iraq?

It?s a handy defense, and is likely to continue to be. Because out there in the future are still other “unimaginable'” contingencies. For example, one day he or his successor may have to ask us who knew there could be a world-wide collapse of confidence in the dollar if we continue to pile up debt? Or, that global warming would produce disastrous effects in a decade, rather than a century? Or, that the blessing of much longer life-spans would overturn all estimates about Social Security?

There?s a bigger problem here: our government is myopic. The executive branch and the congress focus on present-day issues, while constantly postponing consideration of future issues that have huge potential consequence. Over the next few days, I want to blog about this problem and start talking about how to solve it. If we want to prevent disasters like New Orleans from happening in the future, we need to think about new ways of making our politicians think about the long term, and holding their feet to the fire when they don?t.