Viewpoint: Katrina exposed the core of Bush's incompetence

Back in 2000, in the presidential campaign of that year, George W. Bush debated Al Gore. In that debate, he declared that natural disasters “test the mettle” of leaders.

Mr. Bush has now attempted to cope with three national catastrophes–9/11, Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. It is obvious to any thinking person that his mettle is missing.

When he finally got to New Orleans and saw the devastation for himself, he told television’s Diane Sawyer: “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.”

On Oct. 1, 2001, Scientific American magazine published an article that said in part: “If a big, slow-moving hurricane crossed the Gulf of Mexico on the right track, it would drive a sea surge that would drown New Orleans under 20 feet of water. ‘As the water recedes,’ says Walter Maestri, a local emergency management director, we expect to find a lot of dead bodies. New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen.”

Well, it has happened, and now the extreme right is frantically scrambling to control the damage to their image, declaring we shouldn’t play the “blame game.” For the first time in his presidency Bush is taking responsibility for something. “To the extent the federal government didn’t fully do its job right, I take responsibility,” according to MSNBC.

That stands in sharp contrast to the aftermath of 9/11 where no one was accountable and several involved were promoted.

Yes, pitching and dodging the “blame game” rhetoric ball is another Karl Roveism, which the administration’s spin team is so adept at—you know the phrases, such as, “Flip-flop.” Just repeat the phrase, repeat the phrase and repeat the phrase, then the original point of threat is diffused, watered down.

Bush is a man who spent most of his first 40 years drinking, drilling dry oil wells, dodging National Guard service and sort of running a baseball team.

We’ve all seen the pictures from the Gulf Coast. Does anyone really believe this Bush and Co. are going to protect us from anything? Do you feel safer knowing most of our troops are overseas and not available when natural disasters strike?

The pathetic performance of George W. Bush and Co. in the aftermath of this hurricane has generated a rising tide of anger, and some are openly calling for his immediate removal from office.

Intervention magazine wrote: “Hurricane Katrina has shredded what is left of the administration’s tattered credibility. And if you have any doubt, just ponder Bush’s endorsement of FEMA director Mike Brown—‘Brownie, I think you’re doing a heck of a job.’—in the days after Katrina hit. It’s an ominous sign when Bush’s rosy rhetoric seems to stand the test of time about as well as Iraqi Information Minister ‘Baghdad Bob’s’ pronouncements.”

Gordon Adams was senior White House budget official for national security in the Clinton administration. In an editorial published by The Boston Globe, he wrote: “When taxpayers have raised, borrowed and spent $40 billion to $50 billion a year for the past four years for homeland security, but the officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency cannot find their own hands in broad daylight for four days while New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast swelter, drown and die, it is time for them to go.

“We have a president who is apparently ill-informed, lackadaisical and narrow-minded, surrounded by oil baron cronies, religious fundamentalist crazies and right-wing extremists and ideologues. He has appointed officials who give incompetence new meaning, who replace the positive role of government with expensive baloney.

“It is time to hold them accountable. This ugly, troglodyte crowd of Capitol Beltway insiders, rich lawyers, ideologues, incompetents and their strap-hangers should be tarred, feathered and ridden gracefully and mindfully out of Washington and returned to their caves, clubs in hand.”

Cutting short another marathon vacation, remember he was on vacation before 9/11, too, Mr. Bush spent two days after the storm attending social functions before he even turned his attention to the calamity at hand. His callous unconcern was revealed when he flew over the ravaged coast and did not bother to land, but instead went on to San Diego to meet with his fatcat campaign donors.

An item in Richard Roeper’s column in the Sept 12 issue of the Chicago Sun-Times reads: “’The looting is out of control, the French Quarter has been attacked.’—New Orleans councilwoman Jackie Carlson, Aug. 30. Meanwhile, President Bush was playing guitar with country singer Mark Willis in San Diego. Bush would return to Crawford, Texas, that night for one more night of taking it easy before finally cutting his vacation ‘short.’” Read Roeper’s column; he presents a shameful chronology.

He includes Mama Bush, while looking in on the harried, huddled mass of New Orleans evacuees in Houston’s Astrodome, declaring: “What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.” Thus she unveiled her mindset before returning to her multi-million-dollar mansion in Houston.

The administration’s record is clear. It cut the funding for levees and other flood control measures at New Orleans; it was unable to decide what to do with rescue teams and medical personnel waiting in Virginia and refusing or delaying acceptance of foreign offers of aid; George W. Bush cited Sen. Trent Lott’s damaged house in Pascagoula, Miss., as the symbol for rebuilding, while many thousands on the coast were without housing, jobs, electricity and security. In addition to all this, the president tried to pass the entire buck and blame local officials in New Orleans and Baton Rouge as responsible for the tragedy.

Actually, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Bianco did evacuate hundreds of thousands. But they failed in several logistical areas themselves, such as busing, the Astrodome decision and cutting a deal with the feds as to who was in charge. However, at least they were on the job.

Vice President Dick Cheney could barely be bothered to interrupt his fishing vacation in Wyoming to pretend to be concerned on the ground in New Orleans. Now President Bush says he will personally lead an investigation into what went wrong.

This is a man who has largely been a stranger to truth. He expects us to believe he is going to investigate himself and his administration? We should laugh him right out of office. The hallmark of the Bush administration has been secrecy. Secrecy is the handmaiden of tyranny.

After praising the pitiful performance of FEMA Director Michael Brown, Bush quietly removed him from recovery efforts without admitting a thing and put Coast Guard Vice-Admiral Thad Allen in charge. In the meantime, it came out that Brown padded his résumé. Brown, who was named FEMA director in 2003, claimed on his résumé he had served as an assistant city manager in Edmund, Okla., with emergency services oversight. A White House press release referred to his background as “overseeing the emergency services division.”

Claudia Deakins, head of public relations for the city, told Time magazine that Brown was an assistant to the city manager from 1977-1980 and “had no authority over employees.”

Brown’s résumé further claimed he had been an “outstanding political science professor at Central State University.” The university, however, told Time that Brown was a student, never a professor.

The résumé additionally stated Brown was director of the Oklahoma Christian Home, a nursing home in Edmund. The administrator said Brown is “not a person that anyone here is familiar with.” A long-time employee at the home said Brown “was never there, his name was never mentioned.” Then Brown resigned.

Brown, who had been a lawyer for the International Arabian Horse Association, Region 8, serving Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and New Mexico, was asked to leave after 11 years when several lawsuits were
filed against him alleging supervisory failures.

“He was asked to leave,” said Bill Pennington, president of the association.

And then hired by the White House, delivered only a load of horse manure to the long-suffering people of the Gulf Coast.

Five days! As Michael Moore put it, if this storm had hit Kennebunkport and white people were on rooftops, do you think they would have been there for five days?

The American public is angry. That anger was well expressed by Aaron Broussard, Jefferson Parish president, when he said: “Bureaucracy has murdered people in the greater New Orleans area. And bureaucracy needs to stand trial before Congress today. So I’m asking Congress, please investigate this now. Take whatever idiot they have at the top of whatever agency and give me a better idiot. Give me a caring idiot. Give me a sensitive idiot. Just don’t give me the same idiot.”

Even the national media were shocked when what they saw proved vastly different from what they were told. The polls indicate a major shift is occurring in public attitude, not only on the hurricane relief efforts, but on Iraq, the economy and the growing influence of the fanatics on the pseudo-religious right.

But we need to keep a close watch, or the Bush bunch will wriggle out of responsibility again. As noted, Rove is already hard at work trying to reverse rapidly waning public confidence. Even many Republicans are turning away from this administration; some out of narrow concern for the congressional elections of November 2006.

Even Barbara Becker, a museum programs manager in Minnesota, gets it. Writing in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, she said: “Let’s find out what really went wrong. Don’t give us a whitewash that exonerates everyone in charge. We all saw the pictures, and we’re not buying it, not this time.”

Writer Robert Kuttner summed it up in The Boston Globe: “We face two opposite prospects. The first is that Americans will finally grasp that what connects the catastrophes in New Orleans and Iraq is a witches’ brew of self-delusion, deliberate deception, cronyism and staggering incompetence on the part of the Bush administration. Republicans, meanwhile, will desert a president who is becoming a giant embarrassment even to his staunchest backers.”

From the Sept. 14-20, 2005, issue

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