We've read a lot about the short-term partisan political effects of Katrina. But they don't really matter much. President Bush is not running for reelection. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour do not come up for reelection until 2007. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin comes up for reelection in May 2006, but his political fate is a matter of local, not national, interest. Of the four senators from Louisiana and Mississippi, only Trent Lott faces the voters next year. The political fallout from Katrina is not likely to have great partisan effect in the great majority of congressional districts in 2006. A precipitous drop, one much greater than what has been registered so far, in Bush's job rating could have some effect on those contests. But, given the district lines, the effect is not likely to be great.
The more important political effect is less likely to be a change in partisan balance and more likely to be a change in ideas, about what government can and should be doing to alleviate natural disasters and prevent civil disorder. John Barry, author of the splendid Rising Tide on the great Mississippi River flood of 1927, provides intelligent thoughts along these lines in the New York Times. So does Times columnist David Brooks. Others will as well. We are facing a horrifying human disaster. We should be thinking about the response not in terms of spin cycles but in terms of history.