Sunday, February 05, 2006

New Orleans: Their Problem

Washington Post columnist James Hoagland is generally conservative and has been a fairly consistent defender of the Bush administration, particularly on foreign policy matters.

So, Hoagland's comments about the State of the Union address and what the little mention Bush made about Katrina and New Orleans are instructive. It appears that Bush's handling of the storm and its aftermath in the speech sent an unsettling message that worries even mainstream conservatives.

Hoagland writes:
President Bush's 2006 State of the Union message has been widely dismissed as an inconsequential affair already headed for history's ash heap. But the speech leaves an astringent aftertaste that brings it to mind days after its delivery.

The bitter aftertaste comes primarily from Bush's perfunctory treatment of reconstruction efforts for New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. It was a curiously missed opportunity for a president usually eager to spotlight stories of human valor and to promise disadvantaged citizens better tomorrows. Speeding past New Orleans verbally is unlikely to have been an accident.
No doubt, it was not an accident. The speech came days after the administration said it would not support the so-called Baker Plan to at least partially help homeowners in the affected regions of storms make some steps towards recovery.

Hoagland makes clear what has taken place:
And that suggests that another bit of journalistic conventional wisdom -- that Bush is out of touch and lives in a bubble through which he sees the world darkly, if at all -- is also deficient. My fear is more ominous. After a great deal of study and some polling, Bush is reflecting national opinion fairly well on the challenges still faced by the people of New Orleans: We wish them well, but it is their problem, not ours anymore.
Hoagland also makes clear that Bush has viewed the aftermath of Katrina as a political problem, not a humanitarian one:
Bush's rhetorical reticence could be tactical -- a calculated unwillingness to revisit a personal political disaster. Why give anybody an opening to bring up Brownie again? By asking Rove, his political guru, to lead federal reconstruction efforts, Bush clearly signals that his top priorities and concerns are political in this crisis, as in so much else.
Remember that the next time someone (no doubt a Republican) says we need to keep politics out of the recovery. The fact is, that the response to the storm has been political all along and that started with the appointment of a crony/hack to head FEMA. The trips to the coast and New Orleans were all intended to signal to the outraged American public that, hey, Bush cares. The reality is that he doesn't; at least, not about anything but his political skin.

Hoagland suspects there was cold political calculation in Bush's speech:
If you believe that Rove and Bush are too deep in a bubble of isolation or oblivion to see the shortcomings of their energy "plan" and the conflicts swirling around New Orleans, they have a midterm election they would like to sell you. It is far more damning -- for what it would say about them and about the public -- to suspect that they have carefully weighed the pluses and minuses of devoting more attention and resources to New Orleans and have pegged public sentiment just about right.
Rove and Bush might be right about the rest of America wanting to stop thinking about what happened in Louisiana in the wake of the storms. But, if, indeed, New Orleans is our problem, then Bush's callous response to this man-made catastrophe must be made to be the problem of Louisiana Republicans.

Has the state and local response to the storms been perfect? No.

But, what other time in the history of this country has the national government turned its back on its own citizens in the wake of disaster?

The answer is never.

But, this administration and that party (which controls both houses of Congress) have done so. And, no Louisiana resident should ever forget that!

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