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Opening Arguments

Another debacle for Bush haters

I guess I must look for complicated reasons for simple problems. I had presumed the lack of a brilliant performance in getting aid to the Gulf Coast might have been a combination of, 1) the fact that it was the biggest natural disaster to ever hit the United States in modern times and, 2) mistakes made by lots of people at all levels of government. Silly me. Anyone who's thought about it for a minute and a half knows in his bones that it was an evil plot by George Bush to get rid of a few thousand poor, black people. Need proof? Well, he didn't send Bill Clinton down to fix everything the day before the hurricane hit.

For those who might want to think about it longer than a minute and a half, let's consider what some of the factors might have been.

1. A lack of readiness by local officials. You can have the greatest-looking plan on paper, full of flowery government phrases and an intricate chain of command, but that's no substitute for having thought about the potential disaster a lot and then having the ability to make it up as you go along based on all that pre-disaster thought. New Orleans officials certainly should have been thinking about this a lot; they have known forever that, based on the simple geography of where they were, a disaster of epic proportions was more than likely. What does it say when the mayor of the city was basically looking into cameras in a daze, blaming the lack of response on everybody but city officials? City officials missed a lot opportunities, and when an evacuation finally began, guess who suggested it? Yes, that's right:

Gov. Kathleen Blanco, standing beside the mayor at a news conference, said President Bush called and personally appealed for a mandatory evacuation for the low-lying city, which is prone to flooding.

2. Inaction from state government. It's long been known that the N.O. levees were inadequate. A lot of people can share blame for not doing something, including those in Washington and with the Army Corps of Engineers. But New Orleans, as Gov. Kathleen Blanco, has acknowledged, has not always been the state's top priority. "We have to think big," someone in the governor's office said three years ago. No, acting big would be better. (See entire five-part series from 2002 in The New Orleans Times-Picayune.) If a state knows it has a looming diaster, should it not bear the primary responsibility to act?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great.

3. A lack of coordination by the federal government. We've been thinking about homeland security for four years, have we not? Yet planning for a major disaster -- which should include those from nature, not just from terrorists -- has been underwhelming. Why did it take so long to coordinate the National Guard response? Was FEMA pushed aside in the homeland-security reorganization so much that it couldn't adequately respond? What kind of debates should we be having about Homeland Security's effectiveness and role? Let's not let Congress, while it's conducting inquiries, escape answering a few questions as well. Finally, George Bush's response was less than prompt and less than stellar. At the very least, he seemed to have lost the eloquence he had after 9/11. He finally acknowledged that efforts hadn't been enough, a departure for the man who doesn't like to talk about failure.

4. The unfathomable scope of the disaster. All the blame spread around in the remarks above needs to be leavened with the knowledge that the extent of the devastation itself made responding to it more challenging than most people could have imagined. Much of the relief depended on infrastructure that wasn't there anymore.

I would add the further caveat that much of what you're reading in this post might turn out to be nonsense. In the coming weeks, we will learn a lot about what went wrong and how to do it better next time. The only prediction I feel safe to make is that all those who are merely using Katrina to vent their pet hates and obsessions will reap the scorn they deserve. And since we started off talking about Bill Clinton, let's give him the last word.


John Galt
Sat, 09/10/2005 - 1:58pm

I have two comments on this, one specific and the other addressing a bigger picture.

In specific, when one subtracts the partisan hysteria from the commentary about Katrina, the truth appears TO ME to be as you suggest -- I think Gov. Blanco was clearly not up to it. She strikes me, to put it kindly, as a peacetime governor. In short, we all knew the resources were sitting there the day after the event, and we all wondered why they weren't being sent in.

Listening to the defferential Blanco I imagine her background as mostly administrative, maybe at some point secretarial, and probably active in community associations in her lifetime, but not exactly a tough, Solomon-like leader.

I think she was in over her head by a long way from the moment the hurricane struck her state, and although she had federal resources and troops on the perimeter awaiting her every command, she didn't give the necessary commands, at least not before plenty of prodding and a lot of advice.

The mayor of N.O. is not all that different an animal in terms of the results -- not a real leader, much bigger on rhetoric than action, mediocre judgment, untested, etc.

I view this tragedy in part as a learning experience -- in terms of our readiness for other large disasters. Drills can only go so far, and this real world event has taught us much that we needed to know. We'll learn from the mistakes, make adjustments and corrections, and Katrina will in the long run have prepared us far better for another regional catastrophe or terror attack.

As for blame, given the unique and unprecedented nature of Katrina, it looks like the Democrats think blame is a much more important element of this than the rest of Americans do. We don't have to wonder about motives.

And that leads me to my more general comment -- I find I've begun to "factor out" the Bush haters' opinion altogether. If a poll breaks down its results so that one can determine the probable political leanings of the respondents, I find myself automatically SUBTRACTING the liberal percentage of the response before I begin to determine the American people's view on something. I find this gives me a more accurate result.

I imagine I do this because it's blatantly obvious to me by now that the liberals are complaining about absolutely EVERYTHING, hoping that some spaghetti will stick to the wall, or some pellets from the scattergun will find some vital spot if they just find enough things to complain about.

So, if a liberal brought it up, these days I tend to 1) listen to it, because I'm afflicted with a fair mind, and 2) disregard it as soon as I've confirmed that, as usual, there's no there, there.

Liberals are making careers out of crying wolf, but the tactic is painfully transparent. All this crying wolf will come back to bite them if and when they ever need to communicate something of real importance to the American people.

Once discredited, they'll have a heckuva time persuading the grass roots of anything ever again. Trust, as we know, is easy to lose and a real bear to earn back.