I rejected the secular version of this argument by refusing to jump on the "poor are responsible for staying behind" meme. To me, it's rather simple--poor people face structural disadvantages in their lives, some of which might be their fault, many of which are not. To hold them responsible for the ancillary effects of being poor, to me, represents a lack both of human empathy and a far too optimistic view of our system's meritocratic qualities.
However, some folks still are defending the "it's the poor's fault" line. Michael Williams argues that:
As a rather conservative Christian myself, it appears to me that most of the evil and terrible things that happen to people in the world are either the direct result of their own evil actions, or the direct result of the evil actions of others. Arguably, much of the suffering in New Orleans is due to poor/incompetent preparation by local officials who neglected their duties -- and some of that blame then rests with the voters who elected them.
The first note here is that Williams is explicitly equating "stupid decision" (electing incompetent officials in NO) and "evil." That seems a mite bit harsh, no? Second, it shifts a lot of the blame away from the federal government, whom these residents have almost no say in the actions of--this line of reasoning works only with local officials whom one can reasonably say the poor underclass of NO had a chance of reasoning. New Orleans is in Louisiana, and Louisiana voted for Bush, and Bush appointed Michael Brown, who has been an abject failure this entire episode, stretches the line of causation a bit too thin. Thus proving yet another time how "Christian" interpretations of events always magically and perfectly mesh with Republican talking points. Amazing.
But more fundamentally, I'm skeptical about how much one really can link the selection of officials in New Orleans to the dead and victimized underclass. There are several reasons to suggest that it is not innercity black voters who are really empowered here. First, they might not be voting--it's well known that poor black voters are registered and vote at a far lower rate than their fellow Americans. So their power is at a far lower level than their numbers would seem to dictate in a democracy. Second, even those who haven't become totally disenchanted with the democratic process may not be able to vote--either because of draconian felony disenfranchisement clauses, or because they have no way of getting to polling places, or because election day isn't a holiday and they can't get off from work. Third, many don't have the education to make an informed decision. The vast majority of Americans couldn't tell you what constitutes a viable, effective, fast, and comprehensive evacuation plan for their city in the event of a disaster. We don't have the expertise to make the decision. So even on the off chance that the issue came up on the campaign trail, poor voters--even less than privileged New Orleaners--have absolutely no basis for determining that one official has a "good" plan and one has a "bad" plan.
I'm probably--okay, almost definitely--being too hard on Mr. Williams. I'm sure he is very sympathetic to the plight of those killed or ruined in the wake of Katrina, and I'm quite skeptical that he believes that they "deserved" what happened to them. But the sort of Panglossian logic that tries to rationalize the horrific suffering of events like Katrina as necessary, inevitable, or justified offends me as deeply as it does Professor Volokh. Certainly, this view doesn't jibe with my conception of who God really is.