Talking Points by Terry M. Neal

Why, Oh Why?

By Terry M. Neal
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 6, 2005; 12:00 AM

Questions. So many questions.

Why, throughout most of last week, was the most eloquent ambassador, and the only recognizable white face in New Orleans, the great and noted statesman . . .  Harry Connick Jr.? The jazz musician appeared on NBC's "Today" show several times, roaming the streets of his home town, ruminating on its history, delivering food to the displaced and bemoaning the hideous lack of response to Hurricane Katrina.

Why did Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and FEMA head Michael Brown appear on television repeatedly patting themselves on the back for the federal government's effort, when it was so clear to the rest of the world that people were suffering and dying in the streets? "People are getting the help they need," Brown said Friday on the "Today" show, even though the newsreel suggested otherwise.

What in the world was President Bush talking about when he praised Brown at a news conference in Mobile, Ala., saying, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job"?

Speaking of Brownie, how did a guy with no notable experience in disaster relief get that job, anyway?

Mr. President, why did you think it was so important to deliver a political speech comparing Iraq to WWII the day after the hurricane?

Anybody seen Dick Cheney?

Why was Condoleezza Rice, the administration's highest ranking black official, grinning and guffawing at the Broadway show "Spamalot" and shopping for expensive shoes at Salvatore Ferragamo on Fifth Avenue days after the hurricane ravaged the Gulf Coast and left tens of thousands of poor black folks hungry, desperate and dying?

Dear Federal Officials, what kind of message do you think your response to the hurricane must have sent the terrorists, sitting at home watching CNN?

Local and state officials, you can't escape scrutiny: Why didn't you do a better job preparing for the process of evacuating people, given that this sort of disaster has been predicted for decades, and at least one previous study has shown that as many as a third of the residents of New Orleans would be reluctant to evacuate? Did you do everything in your power to prepare the police department, state law enforcements and other emergency services for this disastrous event?

Wait a minute . . . Democrats, you can't get away scot-free. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid did issue some tough sounding press releases, and Pelosi held a press conference on Friday. But neither exactly played a high profile role earlier in the week. Is that what you call leadership?

Back to Connick for a minute . . . why is it that he had no trouble getting in and out of New Orleans, but the feds couldn't figure out a way to deliver water to people five days after the hurricane?


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