Katrina Will Prove to Be A More Defining Moment in American History Than Terrorist Attacks of 9-11

I have been saying for some time that the top issue in the 2008 presidential campaign is going to be the Iraq war, with the war on terror a clear second.

This is not rocket science; our polling has shown this for many months. The vast majority of Americans believe the Iraq war will still be raging as a new president is sworn in.

In the shadow of these mammoth international problems are domestic concerns: health care, Social Security reform, the environment. But these issues pale in the face of a widespread sense of real trouble ahead for America. Barely 30 percent think the nation is now headed in the right direction, and 73 percent say the U.S. is in a serious crisis, according to our recent polling.

This suggests a need to redefine the very nature and structure of U.S. federalism. In our post-Katrina polling, we found a hunger nationwide for a new model for the federal government. In many ways, I believe Katrina, over the long haul, will prove to be more of a defining moment in American history than the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

I realize this may be a stunning statement and that I may be a little ahead of the polls on this, because a poll provides us with a snapshot in time. But there is a trend pointing to this conclusion. While sour memories of the post-Katrina failures have dimmed, the hunger for a better government model has not. The implications for the 2008 presidential election are fascinating.

Our polling shows that Sept. 11, 2001 and its aftermath left a majority of Americans resigned to the idea that we will face another major attack on our own soil. It is, to a certain extent, out of our control. Likely because response to that attack required efforts that were largely limited to the several blocks around the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, governmental response was relatively straightforward, and was largely regarded as a success.

But Katrina was different. It involved an entire region, and revealed a dramatic structural failure of our system of government.

Ultimately, the failures sent a single message to America: the United States is not prepared for a major disaster, natural or otherwise.

The feds get the most blame because they are seen as the government solution of last resort. When the governments of New Orleans and Louisiana failed in the run-up to, and aftermath of, the storm, Washington acted more like the error-prone Little Leaguer you try to hide in right field than the superhero swooping in to save the day.

And so the 2008 presidential campaign is being waged against a backdrop of national unease over Washington’s competence. With the candidates already pretty well-defined on the dominating issue of the Iraq war, the winner may be the one who best defines a new role for how Washington performs when crisis strikes here at home. Americans want the job done, and done right, and the candidate who successfully outlines a plan for national unity and a marshaling of resources is going to have a decided edge.

Our polling shows Americans, faced with a major disaster, don’t want the federal government to solve all their problems by dominating state and local governments with bureaucratic dictates from Washington. Instead, they want a nimble federal government that acts as a clearinghouse, an organizer, a traffic cop for all levels of government and other organizations, including faith-based groups and non-governmental organizations.

Even if candidates don’t talk about these concerns, American voters will be judging them based on whether or not they have what it takes to build that kind of national government. In a post-Katrina world, these may well be the defining issues not just of the 2008 presidential election, but of this generation.

* This op-ed first appeared in the June 2007 edition of Campaigns and Elections Magazine.

John Zogby is the President and CEO of Zogby International. Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Adam said on June 15th, 2007 at 9:37pm #

    Regarding the above mentioned “Terrorist Attacks of 9-11” —

  2. TJ Colatrella said on June 19th, 2007 at 1:24pm #

    “A New Model for the Federal Government” That’s really interesting Mr. Zogby really it is and I have it..!

    We are not really acting like a nation any more but a corporate oligarchy masquerading as a nation..!

    Bush is a corporate shill masquerading as a president..

    His first concern flying over Katrina was of “Insurance fraud” as Americans were drowning in their attics…

    We must Nationalize our Oil Industry and create an Single Payer Health Care System getting the greed ridden corrupt Insurance companies our of our health care..!

    If we did these two things our economy would be energized and much better prepared for the future the “Old Model” is no longer working and really a 19th century hold over..

    If we Nationalize the Oil Industry we would lower costs for energy across the board by say 30% and yet have billions and billions for alternate energy, exploration, infrastructure, renewable energy, new engine designs, refineries, and then there are the National Security implications as well of which Woolsey is so aware and outspoken..!

    The model is of a nation that works and exists to serve the people..

    We have seen that at the far reaches of the unbridled capitalist universe is the same redistribution of wealth as we were threatened with in Communism..

    A certain degree of socialism as to Health Care and Energy makes so much sense I believe it is inevitable ..

    It’s just a matter of are we going to fight huge wasteful wars killing millions and millions before we accept this as the way to go ..

    Katrina showed us how the government is not any longer orientated towards serving the people and that those who are in charge are incompetent and dishonest and shallow as to their fellow man and even children and the elderly…

    Many Americans realized that but for the grace of God or dumb luck that would have been us suffering and without hope and those who still are suffering due to the government being more involved in its corporate wars than serving the American people..!

    We do need a new model and design we are out of step with the times and the rest of the world and they are kicking our collective asses..!

  3. Bringing the Gulf Coast to the Debate - CommonDreams.org said on January 4th, 2008 at 8:47am #

    […] Zogby, one of the top minds in the polling industry, wrote recently in Campaigns and Elections Magazine that polling data on domestic issues facing candidates in the 2008 elections indicates, […]