Paul Krugman offers the least plausible explanation I've seen so far for the federal government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina:
The federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming?
As Julian pointed out the other day, one can favor small government and still support vigorous action in those areas where the government has a legitimate role to play, as in maintaining law and order after a natural disaster. Indeed, the endless expansion of government arguably distracts it from such vital duties, making it less likely to perform them properly. In any case, there is scant evidence that George W. Bush, who disdains the "leave us alone" wing of the conservative movement and thinks the federal government has a duty to pay for every grandmother's prescription and tutor every student in danger of being left behind, harbors any "ideological hostility" to big government. Since taking office he has been busy aggrandizing the public sector, not denigrating it. As Jonathan Rauch notes in his discussion of Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), another prominent Republican who shares Bush's distaste for "libertarianish" conservatives, "the right" that Krugman has in mind, driven by the anti-statist instincts of Barry Goldwater, is not exactly ascendant in Washington these days.