IDEOLOGY AND REAL LIFE….One of the things that Hurricane Katrina has done is shine a very bright light on the different worldviews of liberals and conservatives.

Conservatives fundamentally believe in a limited role for the federal government. They believe in downsizing, privatizing, and placing greater reliance on state and local government to provide essential services. It’s easy ? too easy ? to blame George Bush in hindsight for specific things like cutting the Corps of Engineers budget for the New Orleans district, but the reason this criticism is legitimate is because this wasn’t merely a specific incident. As even some conservatives tacitly admit, it was a direct result of George Bush’s governing ideology.

FEMA was downsized and partially privatized because modern Republican leaders think that’s the right thing to do with federal agencies. Budgets were limited for levee construction and first responder training because Republicans have other priorities. The federal government was slow to respond to Katrina because conservatives believe states should take the lead in looking out for their own needs. George Bush talks endlessly to the cameras about the private sector helping to rebuild the Gulf Coast because that’s the kind thing conservatives believe in.

Liberals, by contrast, believe in a robust role for the federal government. We believe in sharing risk nationwide for local disasters. We believe that only the federal government is big enough to coordinate relief on the scale needed by an event like Katrina, and that strong, well managed agencies like FEMA should take the lead role in making this happen.

Both of these governing philosophies are defensible, but too often they seem like nothing more than opposing sides in an intellectual game. Katrina demonstrates otherwise. It’s what happens when a drowning city runs smack into a conservative movement that believes in drowning the federal government in a bathtub.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan says I’m wrong about conservative ideology:

Real conservatives believe that the state should do a few things that no one else can do ? defense, decent public education, police, law and order among the most obvious ? and leave the rest to individuals. Funding FEMA and having a superb civil defense are very much part of conservatism’s real core.

I’m not so sure that disaster relief is truly part of “conservatism’s real core,” but really, this is neither here nor there. Rarefied arguments about “real” conservatism aside, the brand of conservatism actually on offer today clearly doesn’t value things like disaster relief and doesn’t care much about competent management of anything else either. On that much, at least, Andrew and I appear to agree.