Revisiting Katrina

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, August 20, 2008; 12:20 PM

For many Americans, Hurricane Katrina was the final straw. The sheer incompetence of the administration's response to a crisis -- and President's Bush's personal inability to recognize the scope of the suffering -- sent Bush's job-approval rating into a decline from which it has never recovered.

Two weeks after broken levees left New Orleans full of water but empty of people, Bush famously flew in for a theatrical address from a brightly lit but abandoned Jackson Square, and promised to rebuild the city and the region. "We will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives," he said at the time.

Bush returns to New Orleans today, three years later, unable to declare success. Instead, according to the text of his speech released by the White House yesterday, he will repeatedly emphasize "hopeful signs of progress."

There has been progress, of course, but in the view of the residents of New Orleans, not nearly enough.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that "fully half of those living in the parish say they are either dissatisfied (41 percent) or angry (11 percent) with the amount of progress that has been made. . . .

"They feel ignored by policymakers in Washington, underwhelmed by the financial help provided by the federal government, and forgotten by their fellow Americans."

Richard Lardner writes for the Associated Press: "Bush travels to New Orleans and nearby Gulfport, Miss., on Wednesday after appearing at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Orlando, Fla.. . . .

"'There is still a lot of work to do before this city is fully recovered,' Bush says. 'And for people who are still hurting and not yet back in their homes, a brighter day might seem impossible. Yet a brighter day is coming and it is heralded by hopeful signs of progress.'"

But Lardner writes that nothing Bush has done has "erased the image of a leader who failed to react at a critical moment.

"'It's defined him a great deal in the public's mind,' said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

"'That, along with the war in Iraq, are really the pivotal events in his political demise,' Mann said. 'First impressions have ways of becoming lasting ones and certainly that was the case with Katrina.'

"Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in an interview with The Associated Press that the recovery in New Orleans was far from complete and key projects won't be finished without more federal money.

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