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?

[Here's what the New Orleans Times-Picayune had to say on that subject in a blistering editorial on Sunday:

"Despite the city's multiple points of entry, our nation's bureaucrats spent days after last week's hurricane wringing their hands, lamenting the fact that they could neither rescue the city's stranded victims nor bring them food, water and medical supplies.

"Meanwhile there were journalists, including some who work for The Times-Picayune, going in and out of the city via the Crescent City Connection. On Thursday morning, that crew saw a caravan of 13 Wal-Mart tractor trailers headed into town to bring food, water and supplies to a dying city.

"Television reporters were doing live reports from downtown New Orleans streets. Harry Connick Jr. brought in some aid Thursday, and his efforts were the focus of a "Today" show story Friday morning."]

Why did it take a president who embraces black kids in campaign photo ops as often as possible five days to get to the scene and embrace some of the mostly black suffering masses in New Orleans?

Why do some in the media seem more intent on focusing on the looting of a criminal few than on the more pervasive acts of human kindness of a people enduring the monumental stress of hunger, thirst, separation from family members, loss of homes, and fatigue in the blistering 90 degree heat of Louisiana and Mississippi?

Why have some of the president's supporters attempted to shift blame onto those who did not, or were not able to, evacuate before the storm?

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, why did you suggest that the city looked like "a place that could be bulldozed"? And why were you at a campaign fundraiser for a colleague when the House was voting on a $10.5 billion relief effort bill?

Mr. President, will you ever hold anyone accountable for performance deficiencies? Will you even bother to demand answers?

Would the federal response have taken so long if some similarly devastating disaster had struck, say, McLean, Va., or Scarsdale, N.Y.?

Would a president who proclaims himself to be a conservative sign a $286 billion highway bill packed with some 6,000 pork-barrel projects, many of them frivolous, while cutting a request from the Army Corps of Engineers to bolster hurricane protection in New Orleans from $105 million to $40 million? Wouldn't a president who calls himself a conservative, demand that taxpayer money be spent on priorities and try to do something to reform a budgeting system that rewards politicians for acting like pigs at a trough?

Final question:

Bush, the CEO president?

Postscript

While I never wrote this in my column, I suggested in my washingtonpost.com Live OnLine chat on Friday and in a Sunday appearance on the Chris Matthews Show on NBC that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin had relocated to Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina. In fact, Nagin had relocated his office and his family to Baton Rouge, but he stayed behind in New Orleans. I apologize for the mistake.

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