A republican form of government presupposes self-government -- the capacity of citizens to govern themselves according to reason -- and does not, if it intends to survive, champion them as "victims" when they don't. But the shocking lack of self-government demonstrated by New Orleanians is the one area of government that our republic's vapid media won't scrutinize in their post-mortems on the city's collapse.
Reporters keep shaking their fists at "the government," as if America were not a republic but a statist autocracy in which remote rulers can snap their fingers and make problems vanish for their subjects. Reporters also keep saying that the government's response last week was "embarrassing." What I find more embarrassing is the media's infantilizing of New Orleans citizens who chose not to evacuate despite loud and obvious warnings. Does personal responsibility mean nothing at this point? Aren't citizens "the government" too? What's disgraceful, and positively dangerous, in a republic that depends on self-reliance is a media that encourages a culture of victimization.
In their scattershot criticism of the federal government's response, the media have demonstrated a childish petulance -- a juvenile demand born of the expectation of instant gratification that the government wave a wand and solve all problems -- while ignoring the most obvious causes contributing to the crisis.
"We have gotten our media back," Bill Maher and others have burbled, slapping the Anderson Coopers on the back for holding the government "accountable." Actually, the media will hold nobody, save for a few political figures they detest, accountable. They aren't holding looters accountable but giving Al Sharpton a platform to justify the looting. They aren't holding citizens who were told repeatedly to evacuate and didn't evacuate accountable, though their recklessness put a lot of Coast Guardsmen and rescuers at serious risk. Yes, government agencies owe citizens help. But citizens who through their own heedlessness put government rescuers into a near-impossible spot are in no position to gainsay the help.
The storyline of New Orleanians as victims and government responders as villains is just one more outrageous item in the media's voluminous catalogue of victimization. No reasonable calculus of accountability is ever brought to bear in these tales. Whether it's needle-using, promiscuous AIDS patients or cigarette smokers or litigants in some self-propelled accident, the media will absolve the person who contributed most directly to the problem of responsibility while searching frantically for some nebulously malign force external to the person to villainize. Yet by their own standards of indulgence -- if they can rationalize the decisionmaking of citizens who are told to evacuate but don't, why aren't they similarly tolerant of inadequate planning by FEMA? -- their ferocious appetite for blame appears utterly capricious.
But worse than that, it is destructive to the life of a republic, rendering individuals passive and derelict at the very moment its survival requires more not less self-government.