With Bush still complaining about the "blame game," and making a televised address tonight, I've been thinking about this finger-pointing business since the fallout over Katrina reached politically dangerous flood levels:
Was there a blame game when there was a monumental screw-up, involving lost lives, by a Democratic administration?
The answer is yes. In 1993, when the Clinton administration ordered the raid at Waco that led to 70 deaths, including those of many children, the blame-gamers immediately swung into action, and some of the accusers were Democrats.
The day after Janet Reno ordered the raid against Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, Orrin Hatch called for an investigation.
The day after that, Henry Hyde said, according to the New York Times: "There are questions of competence, questions of effectiveness. Who was in charge? Who was making the decisions? How well were the options presented? Was this inevitable?" Hyde said that hearings would begin within days.
Ten days after the debacle, at a House Judiciary hearing, Democratic Rep. John Conyers likened the government's actions to a "military operation," calling them an "absolute disgrace."
"You did the right thing by offering to resign," Conyers told Reno. "I'd like you to know that there's at least one member of Congress who is not going to rationalize the innocent deaths of two dozen children."
What about the media? After Bill Clinton said that Reno had made the decision, a Washington Post editorial argued that "the president is also required, and rightly so, to accept responsibility when any agency of government is involved in something that turns out to be a catastrophe. The White House response to Monday's disaster in Waco sounded like an attempt to evade that responsibility." Clinton later took full responsibility, and Reno described the raid as a mistake.
Post columnist David Broder wrote: "He allowed his spokesman to spend the first 24 hours of the Waco tragedy distancing the president from the calamity, before he stepped forward himself to back the attorney general and accept his own accountability."
Chicago Tribune columnist Joan Cook wrote: "Whatever their reasoning, whatever their excuses, federal officials from Clinton and Reno on down made hellish mistakes in Waco." Joe Klein, then with Newsweek, described what he called "a media apocalypse: Where was Clinton? Was he trying to duck responsibility? Why didn't they act sooner? Why didn't they wait?"
My point is, when there's a catastrophe and government officials clearly screw up and people die as a result, of course there's going to be criticism and blame. Of course there's going to be anger and demands for accountability. That's how things work in a democracy. Yes, the Bush team was responding to a natural disaster and the Clinton team caused the disaster at Waco after a long siege, but the underlying principle is the same.
This New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2005/09/15/politics/15poll.html?hp&ex=1126756800&en=835384024f7e4005&ei=5094&partner=homepage poll is the latest sign that Bush has taken a hit from Katrina:
"A summer of bad news from Iraq, high gasoline prices, economic unease and now the devastation of Hurricane Katrina has left President Bush with overall approval ratings for his job performance and handling of Iraq, foreign policy and the economy at or near the lowest levels of his presidency, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.
"For the first time, just half of Americans approve of Mr. Bush's handling of terrorism, which has been his most consistent strength since he scored 90 percent approval ratings in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 6 in 10 now say that he does not share their priorities for the country, 10 percentage points worse than on the eve of his re-election last fall, while barely half say he has strong qualities of leadership, about the same as said so at the early low-ebb of his presidency in the summer of 2001.
"More Americans now distrust the federal government to do the right thing than at any time since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And the poll revealed a sharp racial divide. While half of all respondents disapprove of the way Mr. Bush has handled the aftermath of Katrina, nearly three quarters of blacks do . . . Fifty-six percent of Americans said they were now less confident about the government's ability to respond to a terrorist attack or natural disaster."
A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll has Bush at 40 percent, with this key finding: "Hurricane Katrina has accelerated the erosion in public support for the Iraq war as President Bush's core of supporters dwindles and economic pessimism turns Americans' attention inward. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll shows that cutting spending on Iraq is Americans' top choice for financing the recovery from Katrina."
Salon's Sid Blumenthal | http://www.salon.com/opinion/blumenthal/2005/09/15/bush_myth/index.html, who I believe preferred Clinton as president, writes a W. obit of sorts:
"Bush's America is gone with the wind. It lasted just short of four years, from Sept. 11, 2001, to Aug. 29, 2005.
"The devastation of New Orleans was the watery equivalent of a dirty bomb, but Hurricane Katrina approached the homeland with advance warnings, scientific anticipation and a personal briefing of the president by the director of the National Hurricane Center, alerting him about a possible breaching of the levees. It was as predictable as though Osama bin Laden had phoned in every detail to the television networks. No future terrorist attack would or could be as completely foreseen as Katrina.
"Bush's entire presidency and reelection campaign were organized around one master idea: He stood as the protector and savior of the American people under siege . . .
"The rest of the Bush presidency will consist of his strained efforts to cobble his myth together again while others cope with the consequences of his damage."
Of course, a lot can happen in three years. At this point in Clinton's second term, we didn't yet know about Monica.
In the New Republic, Joel Kotkin and David Friedman | http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=w050912&s=kotkinfriedman091405 blame libs for the pre-existing mess in the Big Easy:
"If Katrina has laid bare the shortcomings of Bush-style conservatism, it has also exposed problems with contemporary urban liberalism. During the years preceding the hurricane, New Orleans indulged many of the worst tendencies of urban liberal politics -- and on the day Katrina made landfall, it was the poorest residents of the city who paid the price. Which is why it can be said that Katrina exposed the failures of not one, but two, political philosophies: a national conservatism unconcerned about urban centers; and an urban liberalism unconcerned about the daily realities of the majority of urban dwellers. The media has largely focused on the former failure. But the latter failure is no less real.
"That the governments of New Orleans and Louisiana, long dominated by Democrats, are corrupt and ineffective is of course widely recognized. But the problems in New Orleans went beyond mere corruption; the city's civic culture and public institutions have, for years, been under siege. Among those public institutions was the criminal justice system: Even as crime rates have fallen throughout the country, the number of violent crimes in New Orleans was rising well before the storm . . .
"While these and other basic needs went unmet, New Orleans politicians, like so many liberal leaders in cities nationwide, focused on an elite-driven agenda designed to create an ephemeral economy rather than a broad-based one. Their lack of proper economic focus allowed what should have been a healthy city to fall largely into poverty and decrepitude."
Some conservatives are worried about a big-government response to Katrina, and that includes Michael Franc | http://nationalreview.com/comment/franc200509140836.asp in National Review:
"It is precisely during a crisis such as Katrina that Congress is best able to separate the government's wheat from the chaff. Wasteful and redundant programs, pork projects and misplaced priorities stand out in sharp contrast to those necessary activities that only government can do. Consider, for example, that several years ago Louisiana's elected officials secured $475,000 for a bike trail atop New Orleans' ill-fated levee. Or that between 2002 and 2004 its congressional delegation delivered over 350 pork projects valued in excess of $430 million for low-priority items such as community centers, drug-treatment facilities, after-school programs, road and trolley projects, and wastewater treatment facilities. Is it even possible for Congress and the White House to prune the dead weight of government at moments such as this?"
Not based on the example of the last 20 years.
Did the media focus on Brownie obscure the failings of Chertoff? That's what this Knight Ridder | http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/12637172.htm suggests:
"The federal official with the power to mobilize a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, not the former FEMA chief who was relieved of his duties and resigned earlier this week, federal documents reviewed by Knight Ridder show.
"Even before the storm struck the Gulf Coast, Chertoff could have ordered federal agencies into action without any request from state or local officials. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown had only limited authority to do so until about 36 hours after the storm hit, when Chertoff designated him as the 'principal federal official' in charge of the storm . . .
"But Chertoff -- not Brown -- was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan, the federal government's blueprint for how agencies will handle major natural disasters or terrorist incidents. An order issued by President Bush in 2003 also assigned that responsibility to the homeland security director.
"But according to a memo obtained by Knight Ridder, Chertoff didn't shift that power to Brown until late afternoon or evening on Aug. 30, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department."
This may change after the latest suicide bombings in Iraq claimed nearly 200 lives, but Arianna Huffington | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/another-victim-of-katrina_b_7291.html says:
"The monomaniacs in the media are at it again, focusing all their attention on a single story to the exclusion of all others.
"At least this time, the story the galloping herd has focused on is a mega-disaster and not Michael Jackson or Natalee Holloway or the Brad-Jen-Angelina triangle. But as monumental a story as Katrina is, why aren't the American media capable of covering two disasters at the same time?
"I'm talking, of course, about the other disaster facing our country, Iraq. You remember Iraq, don't you? I wouldn't blame you if it's slipped your mind, because it has certainly fallen off the media radar screen since Katrina came ashore -- devastating the Gulf Coast and blowing the devastation in the Persian Gulf off the front pages."
On the Roberts hearings, the Democrats seem to feel they heard some encouraging noises yesterday, as the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-091405roberts_lat,0,4184361.story?coll=la-home-headlines reports:
"Chief justice nominee John G. Roberts Jr. cautiously endorsed federal voting rights law today as Democrats and Republicans sought assurances that he would be sensitive to civil rights and Congress' interest in legislating without being second-guessed by an activist judiciary. "Under questioning from Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Roberts said that he saw nothing 'constitutionally suspect' in a provision of the Voting Rights Act that he had raised questions about while a lawyer in the Reagan administration in the early 1980s . . .
"And Roberts expressed support for portions of a 2003 opinion by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor upholding the rights of state universities to consider race in educational admissions. But Roberts also drew a line, exasperating Democrats and even some Republicans, with his reticence. "He refused to say whether he believed death row inmates should always have rights of appeal when they find newly discovered evidence that they are innocent. He also declined to engage Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) in a discussion of his views on whether terminally ill people have a right to discontinue life-preserving treatment."
The Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2005/09/15/robertss_testimony_alarms_conservatives/ goes further: "Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr.'s testimony about the existence of a right to privacy, the importance of respecting precedent, and the need for the Constitution to adapt to changing conditions has alarmed some rank-and-file conservatives, who are filling up Internet message boards with predictions that Roberts may turn out to be a moderate justice." Some are comparing JR to -- gasp -- David Souter and Anthony Kennedy.
The Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti | http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/006/076zvglz.asp picks up a point I made about long-winded senators:
"Tuesday's question and answer session revealed that members of the Senate Judiciary Committee currently suffer from a severe bout of jobidenitis -- the inability to ask a serious question without first delivering a two-to-three-minute self-indulgent preamble . . .
"It was a series of speeches with a few questions thrown in here and there. Biden went on for eight minutes before asking his first question: 'Do you agree that there is a right to privacy to be found in the liberty clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?' (Roberts agrees.)
According to the day's New York Times transcript, DeWine spoke for 15 paragraphs before asking Roberts to 'just talk in general about when you see fact-findings by Congress, when we have held hearings, when we have established the record, how do you approach it, what are the tools that you use, Judge, based on the precedents and based on what you think the role of the judge is?' . . . Alabama Republican senator Jeff Sessions . . . spent five minutes reading aloud from a recent Atlantic Monthly article by Benjamin Wittes. The Wittes piece is worth reading, but Sessions failed to mention what it had to with John Roberts."
Two Power Line | http://powerlineblog.com/ conservatives disagree on Roberts's performance. John Hinderaker says: "It seemed to me that he came very close to pledging loyalty to Roe v. Wade with his answers on stare decisis and the Fourteenth Amendment. He acknowledged Roe and, more important, Casey as precedents and bought into the 'erosion' theory under which some precedents are more precedential than others."
But Paul Mirengoff says: "I don't think Roberts gave any ground, but I acknowledge he has never staked out any ground to give. His views on stare decisis seemed unexceptionable. Roe and Casey are precedents, and 'erosion' is a factor in deciding whether to overturn a precedent . . . Judges can manipulate the test for deciding whether to dump a precedent almost at will, so Roberts remains a virtual free agent when it comes to deciding whether to dump Roe and Casey."
Slate's Dahlia Lithwick | http://slate.msn.com/id/2126131/entry/0/?nav=tap3 says: "It's increasingly clear that Senate Democrats are giving up. They are taking a cue from the petulant Joe Biden, who telegraphs exactly who these hearings are really for when he refuses to let the nominee answer any of his questions . . .
"Whereas Biden and Patrick Leahy made at least some effort to develop lines of questioning, Herb Kohl and Dianne Feinstein give up entirely. Knowing there will be no Perry Mason moment . . . they dully read their questions from a script and avoid the follow-up altogether. 'Oh, so you aren't opposed to environmental protection? OK. Let's move on.' The hunters have become the hunted. The lion is draped across a chaise longue, picking his teeth with their arguments."
But the blogosphere is not fired up over this. Kevin Drum | http://www.washingtonmonthly.com confesses a lack of interest:
"I haven't been blogging about the John Roberts hearings, and I feel like this makes me a bad blogger. The thing is, the hearings are so obviously a Kabuki dance that I just can't get excited about any of the details. Is there anyone who seriously thinks that Roberts will sustain any damage during the hearings or that he won't sail through confirmation?
At this point I think it's all for show."
Here's a new twist: CBS's Public Eye | http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/publiceye/main500486.shtml blog has video of an "Evening News" editorial meeting. Note to management: Can footage of WashPost Page 1 meetings be far behind?
Howard Stern | http://howardstern.com as a role model for the media? Jeff Jarvis | http://www.buzzmachine.com thinks so:
"Howard Stern just said that he plans to have a show on Sirius right after his show with the audience criticizing what they just heard.
"That's new. Imagine if a paper ran just one page every day with critiques from its readers. And, no, I don't mean letters to the editor, picked like ripe apples and all shined up. I mean handing control of that page over to outsiders to say what they will about what we do."