For liberals, this has been the perfect storm.
Not that anyone would wish such massive death and destruction on Louisiana and Mississippi, but they now have a rare opportunity not just to criticize George W. Bush, but to paint his response to Katrina as a metaphor for his presidency.
This may be unfair, but politics is about performance, and in this case, even many Republicans acknowledge that the administration's performance was weak and confused.
After 9/11, the country rallied around Bush, and by the time the war on terror became politicized -- remember what city the last GOP convention was held in, days before the third anniversary of the attacks -- Democrats were wary of seeming to undermine that war.
After Iraq became ever more bloody, Democrats were muted in their criticism -- Kerry and many of his colleagues had voted for the war, you may recall -- and no one wanted to be seen as undermining our brave troops.
But the submerging of New Orleans, now that's a different story.
With missed opportunities before, during and after the storm, with FEMA run by an old pal of Joe Allbaugh's whose previous job had to do with horses, with Bush initially insisting the effort was going well when it most obviously was not -- here was a gold-plated chance for Democrats and liberals to slam the president. And few could resist tying the debacle to Sept. 11 and Iraq. I've culled the following examples:
Frank Rich | http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/04/opinion/04rich.html: "From the president's administration's inattention to threats before 9/11 to his disappearing act on the day itself to the reckless blundering in the ill-planned war of choice that was 9/11's bastard offspring, Katrina is deja vu with a vengeance.
"The president's declaration that 'I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees' has instantly achieved the notoriety of Condoleezza Rice's 'I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center.' The administration's complete obliviousness to the possibilities for energy failures, food and water deprivation, and civil disorder in a major city under siege needs only the Donald Rumsfeld punch line of 'Stuff happens' for a coup de grace. How about shared sacrifice, so that this time we might get the job done right? After Mr. Bush's visit on 'Good Morning America' on Thursday, Diane Sawyer reported on a post-interview conversation in which he said, 'There won't have to be tax increases.' . . .
"Surely it's only a matter of time before Mr. Chertoff and the equally at sea FEMA director, Michael Brown (who also was among the last to hear about the convention center), are each awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in line with past architects of lethal administration calamity like George Tenet and Paul Bremer."
New Yorker Editor David Remnick | http://www.newyorker.com/talk/content/?050912ta_talk_remnick: "To a frightening degree, Bush's faults of leadership and character were brought into high relief by the crisis. Suntanned and relaxed after a vacation so long that it would have shamed a French playboy, Bush reacted with fogged delinquency, as if he had been so lulled by his summer sojourn that he was not quite ready to acknowledge reality, let alone attempt to master it. His first view of the floods came, pitifully, theatrically, from the window of a low-flying Air Force One, and all the President could muster was, according to his press secretary, 'It's devastating. It's got to be doubly devastating on the ground.' The moment demanded clarity of mind and rigorous governance, and yet he could not summon them. The performance skills Bush eventually mustered after September 11th -- in his bullhorn speech at Ground Zero, in his first speech to Congress -- eluded him.
"The whole conceit of his Presidency, that he was an instinctive chief executive backed by 'grown-ups' like Dick Cheney and tactical wizards like Karl Rove, now seemed as water-logged as Biloxi and New Orleans. The mismanagement of the Katrina floods echoed the White House mismanagement -- the cavalier posture, the wretched decisions, the self-delusions -- in postwar Iraq."
Josh Marshall | http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2005_09_04.php#006410:
"It's almost awe-inspiring to see the level of energy and coordination the Bush White House can bring to bear in a genuine crisis. Not hurricane Katrina, of course, but the political crisis they now find rising around them . . . The storyline and the outlines of the attack are now clear: pin the blame for the debacle on state and local authorities . . .
"This whole conversation we're having now is not about substance, but procedural niceties, excuses which it is beyond shameful for an American president to invoke in such a circumstance. We don't live in the 19th century. All you really needed was a subscription to basic cable to know almost all of the relevant details (at least relevant to know what sort of assistance was needed) about what was happening late last week. The president and his advisors want to duck responsibility by claiming, in so many words, that the Louisiana authorities didn't fill out the right forms. So what they're trying to pull is something like a DMV nightmare on steroids."
Arianna Huffington | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/bill-clinton-suckupin_b_6716.html is even mad at Clinton -- the "Suck-Up-In-Chief" -- for helping his successor:
"What the hell was Bill Clinton thinking, standing there next to President Bush and providing verbal cover for the administration's ludicrous claims that the problems plaguing New Orleans were unforeseeable? He even defended the administration's catastrophic response to Katrina. When asked on CNN whether the federal response was fast enough, Clinton bobbed, weaved, and fell back on this utterly absurd claim: 'You and I are not in a position to make any judgment because we weren't there.' C'mon, Bill, ' . . . we weren't there'? I know this sucking up business is hard, but you've got to do better than that.
"This disaster has been extraordinarily revealing, exposing not only Bush's failure of leadership, and the deadly consequences of his distorted priorities but also the many, many years of political neglect of the poor and the needy by both political parties . . . But it's mighty hard to have a teachable moment when you have Bill Clinton, still the reigning symbol of the Democratic Party, failing to connect the dots between the Bush administration's chronic abandonment of the poor and its recent abandonment of the poor in the Big Easy -- as well as the dots between the war in Iraq and the undermining of our security here at home."
Greg Mitchell | http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/columns/pressingissues_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001054581, who runs Editor & Publisher, lays casualties at Bush's doorstep:
"While the 9/11 'My Pet Goat' episode was certainly illuminating, it's not certain what might have worked out better that day had the president dropped the book and taken action. But his failure to grab the reins in the hurricane catastrophe for three days this week probably doomed hundreds, or more, to death. This is not mere incompetence, but dereliction of duty. The press should call it by its proper name."
Andrew Sullivan | http://www.andrewsullivan.com, who's hardly a liberal, is furious at the Bush team:
"I'm trying to think of what this event means in the national psyche. The complete collapse of effective government and of emergency procedures four years after 9/11 mean only one thing. We do not have an administration capable of running the country during the war on terror. They have bungled homeland security; they have mismanaged Iraq; they have dropped the ball in New Orleans. In each case, a conservative government does not seem to understand that law and order are always, always, the first priority. The glib self-congratulation of government official after official made me retch listening to them . . .
"I do think however that this crisis means an obvious shift in terms of Bush's successor. Two words: Rudy Giuliani. We need someone to do for the federal government what Rudy did for New York's. His social liberalism will now be far less of an obstacle. We need competence again."
Sullivan also rips "the blithering idiot, Michael 'heck of a job' Brown, hired with no credentials to run a critical agency at a time of national peril. I guess some of us pundits bear the blame. We should have known that someone who had been fired for being unable to run an Arabian Horse Association had the job of responding to a national disaster in the war on terror. He was hired because a Bush crony, Joe Allbaugh (also hired because he was a major Bush fundraiser), liked him. The good ol' boy network at its most brazen. If the president wants to recover even a little from what has happened to his reputation, he has to fire Brown. Now. That's the test of whether he gets it. Not his furrowed brow press conferences. Not his spin. Not the desperate attempts by Republican partisans -- once again! -- to blame someone else down the chain of command."
The Wall Street Journal | http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110007213 editorial page cuts Bush little slack, saying that "the aftermath of Katrina poses a threat to his entire second term . . .
"Mr. Bush is going to have to recognize the obvious initial failure of the Department of Homeland Security in its first big post-9/11 test. The President created this latest huge federal bureaucracy, against the advice of many of us, and we're still waiting for evidence that it has done anything but reshuffle the Beltway furniture. If FEMA can't now handle the diaspora out of New Orleans to Houston, Baton Rouge and other cities, the political retribution will be fierce."
But Ankle Biting Pundits | http://www.anklebitingpundits.com/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=2254 is having none of it:
"To say the Left's reaction to Katrina is a public and political disgrace would be an understatement. They have sunk so low, they now politicize the weather. They take a perverse, twisted joy in the suffering of others because they are now convinced after a catalogue of failed P.R. stunts (Joe Wilson, Richard Clark, Fahrenheit 9-11, the fake 60 Minutes memo, Cindy Sheehan), they will finally get him . . .
"Katrina has brought out all the Left's old tricks: victimology, anti-corporate rhetoric, class warfare, racial division, Bush-hatred. It's old home day in the twisted mind of an American liberal."
While the political sniping continues, the president is trying to regain the initiative, as the Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/weather/articles/2005/09/07/bush_vows_probe_of_what_went_wrong/ reports:
"President Bush, under fire about whether he acted aggressively to help tens of thousands of desperate people left homeless, destitute, and starving by Hurricane Katrina, promised yesterday that he would lead an investigation into 'what went wrong' with the government's response and will dispatch Vice President Dick Cheney to 'assess our recovery efforts' in the region.
"But two hours later, Scott McClellan, Bush's press secretary, told reporters the president would simply 'lead an effort' in the escalating catastrophe. McClellan was unclear about whether Bush would look into his own actions and vague about when and how the investigation would start, and rejected questions about whether the president should fire anyone responsible for the problems."
Doesn't sound like much of an investigation, and the announcement brought more ridicule in the blogosphere. Josh Marshall dismisses the move as "Bush to lead investigation into his own failure," while Andrew Sullivan says: "This is becoming a farce. Can anyone put him in touch with reality?"
One conservative playing offense, at least on the question of race, is National Review Editor Rich Lowry | http://nationalreview.com/lowry/lowry200509021731.asp:
"The victims in New Orleans are overwhelmingly poor and black, and it didn't take long for that to begin to elicit charges of a kind of racism. The head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), said at a press conference Friday, 'We cannot allow it to be said that the difference between those who lived and those who died in this great storm and flood of 2005 was nothing more than poverty, age, and skin color.' First, this nation has been transfixed and heartbroken by the suffering of the black victims in New Orleans. It has been outraged by the acts of violence that have made their plight even more difficult. If the country is the least bit inclined to write off the misery in New Orleans as experienced by the wrong race and therefore not worth the bother, there is no evidence of it.
"Sadly, poverty and age have affected who got out and who didn't, as many of the poor and elderly didn't have cars or the resources to evacuate. Many of these people are black, but . . . Elijah Cummings, their skin color as such had nothing to do with whether they escaped the city. If the federal response has seemed flat-footed, does anyone believe that President Bush got on the phone with the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, and said, 'Hey, Michael, let's slow-walk this thing -- we're talking about mostly black victims here'? Apparently some people do believe it. According to Jesse Jackson, 'Many black people feel that their race, their property conditions and their voting patterns have been a factor in the response.' Voting patterns! Louisiana voted for Bush and just elected a Republican U.S. senator. Is it plausible to think Bush wanted to watch the state's major city sink into chaos for political reasons?"
Geraldo keeps on saving people, says Stephen Elliott | http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2005/09/05/cityinruins/index.html in Salon:
"Geraldo Rivera arrives in a Fox News truck. An elderly woman with blond hair grips his elbow. She's wearing thick dark glasses and a pink shirt. He carries her small white dog in his arms. He's wearing thigh-high waders unzipped to below his knees. We shake hands. 'Her relative called one of our stations,' Geraldo tells me, explaining how that call went to another station, and then another, and finally to him.
The woman had been stranded in her home for six days. Geraldo picked up the woman and her dog and brought them here. . . .
" 'That's the second time he brought her here,' one of the doctors tells me, nodding toward Geraldo.
" 'What? " 'They did two takes. Geraldo made that poor woman walk from the Fox News van to the heliport twice. Both times carrying her dog.' " 'Are you serious?' I ask. He says he is."
But don't be fooled: This is dangerous business. St. Petersburg Times | http://sptimes.com/2005/09/07/Worldandnation/Times_reporter_shot_i.shtml. reporter Marcus Franklin was shot in Baton Rouge Monday night while covering the disaster. According to a colleague, a man stopped Franklin at an intersection and asked him for money, and when the reporter drove off, the assailant shot him, with the bullet lodging in Franklin's stomach. Franklin is said to be hospitalized but all right.
Craig Crawford | http://crawfordslist.blogspot.com/ wants to cut the former first lady some slack:
"You just gotta believe Barbara Bush didn't mean it how it sounded, that the 'underprivileged' Katrina victims now in Texas shelters are better off than they were in their pre-hurricane homes. Let's be fair. They really are better off compared to being stranded -- or dead -- in their sunken homes. But it is a struggle to come up with a positive interpretation of what the First Mother said while touring Houston relief centers:
" 'Almost everyone I've talked to says, "We're going to move to Houston." What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this -- this is working very well for them.' " I'm sure they're just tickled pink.
Jeff Jarvis | http://www.buzzmachine.com/ sees a linguistic whitewashing:
"It's shocking -- it's downright obscene -- that journalists acting as self-appointed nannies censored New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's angry speech demanding help for his city. The New York Times did it. TV did it. Journalists charged with reporting accurately bleeped 'ass' and 'goddamn' and they wouldn't let him say 'BS.' . . .
"What makes them think they should tone down his anger? He said these words for a reason. These words need to be said. Anger is justified. Shock is needed. These words are part of the story. But in our nannified culture today, in the era of the FCC and the PTC thinking they should control our speech, in this age of offense, these people think they need to protect us from words -- and thus from anger, from bluntness, from honesty. That is dishonest."
He's got a #@$&!!* point.