[[D I S A S T E R S]] * Echoes of my own screed from the other day, rebuking George W. Bush for his lethargic, “go on with my life” response to the mounting threat and resulting devastation from Hurricane Katrina, can now be heard in--of all publications--the New Hampshire Union Leader. I say “of all publications,” because that 142-year-old newspaper, based in Manchester, has long been recognized for its staunchly conservative opinions. Yet in a Wednesday editorial titled “Bush and Katrina: A Time for Action, Not Aloofness,” it lit into the Republican prez as splenetically as any more liberal-minded periodical:
As the extent of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation became clearer on Tuesday--millions without power, tens of thousands homeless, a death toll unknowable because rescue crews can’t reach some regions--President Bush carried on with his plans to speak in San Diego, as if nothing important had happened the day before.The paper goes on to wonder whatever happened to “the cool, confident, intuitive leadership Bush exhibited in his first term.” In its place, the Union Leader opined, “is a diffident detachment unsuitable for the leader of a nation facing war, natural disaster and economic uncertainty.”
Katrina already is measured as one of the worst storms in American history. And yet, President Bush decided that his plans to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VJ Day with a speech were more pressing than responding to the carnage.
A better leader would have flown straight to the disaster zone and announced the immediate mobilization of every available resource to rescue the stranded, find and bury the dead, and keep the survivors fed, clothed, sheltered and free of disease.
No less biting, though perhaps more predictable, is today’s New York Times editorial, “Waiting for a Leader,” which eviscerates the prez’s weak, robotic public response to the Gulf Coast catastrophe:
George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end. ...“White House Briefing” columnist Dan Froomkin, of The Washington Post, piles on with a lengthy recap of Good Morning America co-host Diane Sawyer’s interview with Bush this morning. Froomkin writes that this live exchange “exposed one of the president’s greatest weaknesses: He doesn’t have the answers to some of the most important questions. The White House press corps is sort of used to that by now, but the American public--clamoring for answers in the wake of the horrific Gulf Coast disaster--may be less sympathetic.”
Sacrifices may be necessary to make sure that all these things happen in an orderly, efficient way. But this administration has never been one to counsel sacrifice. And nothing about the president’s demeanor yesterday--which seemed casual to the point of carelessness--suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis.
At one point, Sawyer said to Bush: “The prospect, some people are saying, [is] of a million American refugees in place for a very long time. ... What are you saying to them about how far the federal government will go to get their lives back? Do you promise jobs? Do you promise that they will be moved back into housing and how soon?” To which Bush responded: “Well, first of all, we’ve got to get a handle on the situation. In other words, we have to stop the flooding in New Orleans and, you know, rescue the folks. Get them out of harm’s way. Get food and medicine to people. Then take a serious assessment about what it is going to need to rebuild New Orleans. And parts of Mississippi.” In other words, he ducked every aspect of Sawyer’s query, providing no reassurances to the hard-hit residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama who are having to make do in shelters and on city streets, or who have been living “like animals” in New Orleans’ Superdome while the prez soars 2,500 feet above the storm-caused ruin in Air Force One. Later, when Sawyer solicited a response from Bush to rumors of price gouging by oil companies in the aftermath of Katrina, which flooded refineries and closed pipelines all along the Gulf Coast, the ex-oil company exec refused to ask for even a modicum of sacrifice from rich fuel suppliers. Instead, he fell back on a pathetic, business-friendly wheeze: “Well, what I’d like to see in corporate America, is to make sure they contribute to helping these victims.” Can you imagine Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, or even Ronald Reagan demonstrating so little imagination and compassion in the face of an advancing crisis?
The Union Leader has it right: Such weakness in the face of disaster, and such detachment from the crying needs of a stricken public is “unsuitable for the leader of a nation.”
ADDENDUM: Surprise, surprise. A new SurveyUSA poll finds that 59 percent of Americans believe “the federal government is not doing enough to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.” An overwhelming 75 percent of respondents say officials in America’s ravaged Gulf Coast states are not prepared for the challenges ahead, while 31 percent agree with the outrageous statement uttered by U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) on Wednesday--but since retracted, sort of--that “New Orleans should not be rebuilt.”
READ MORE: “Bush Taps Father, Clinton for Relief Help,” by Nedra Pickler (AP); “A Political Hurricane Is Gathering Force,” by Howard Fineman (MSNBC); “The Flyover Presidency of George W. Bush,” by Arianna Huffington (The Huffington Post); “Where Was George?,” by Michael Tomasky (The American Prospect); “The Unraveling,” by Tim Grieve (Salon); “Hurricane Katrina: Blaming Bush, Being Pro-Looting and More,” by David Corn (The Nation); “‘No One Can Say They Didn’t See This Coming,’” by Sidney Blumenthal (Salon); “Why City’s Defenses Were Down,” by John Vidal and Duncan Campbell (The Guardian); “New Orleans Died for Bush’s Sins,” by James Wolcott; “Destroying FEMA,” by Eric Holdeman (The Washington Post); “The National Guard Belongs in New Orleans and Biloxi. Not Baghdad,” by Norman Solomon (TruthOut); “Compassionate Something or Other in Action,” by Kos (Daily Kos); “The Katrina Premium: Why the Hurricane May Hurt the Economy More than 9/11,” by Daniel Gross (Slate); “After the Flood,” by Adam B. Kushner (The New Republic).
TO HELP: Donate to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts via the Network for Good Web site.