On CNN’s “Larry King Live” only five days after Katrina came onto land, and while the world was seeing the destruction of New Orleans from Katrina and the local, state and federal governments’ inefficiency, American Red Cross president Marty Evans was effusive in her praise for President Bush. To a national audience, she said the president “is supporting so strongly the voluntary sector.” Almost gushing, she said Bush is “helping us do our jobs better so that we can provide for the emergency needs and the long-term needs of so many people.” It’s nice she believed the president was finally doing his job by ordering a massive and coordinated federal response.
Besieged by the people, outraged by what they had read or seen in the media, in an uncharacteristic act, President Bush acknowledged a weakness. “Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government,” he said, “and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility.” However, he also shifted some of the blame, noting that problems occurred “at all levels of government.”
Two nights later, standing in the French Quarter against a backdrop of the St Louis Cathedral temporarily lit by emergency generators, in a scene that would make any movie director envious, President Bush promised hope and pledged, “Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.” He said the federal government was committed to rebuilding the city exactly where it stands, but he didn’t acknowledge that perhaps it would be wiser to allow severely flooded areas to be allowed to once again be the wetlands to protect the people from future storms.
He acknowledged the repeated charges of racism by referring to the problems of “deep, persistent poverty” and said that poverty “has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which has cut off generations from the opportunity of America.” He promised his administration would develop a comprehensive plan that would allow the people of New Orleans to “rise above the legacy of inequality.”
But, most of all, almost gutted by the double-edged sword of rebuilding both the city and his own presidency, President Bush again took responsibility. “Four years after the frightening experience of Sept. 11, Americans have every right to expect a more effective response in a time of emergency,” he said, acknowledging, “When the government fails to meet such an obligation, I as president am responsible for the problem, and for the solution.” He was sincere and determined.
It would have been better had he not disregarded the warnings of scientists who told him about the effects of global warming, and of ocean currents and warmer temperatures that provide a base for more intense hurricanes. It would have been better had he not sacrificed the environment to developers and the oil industry. It would have been better had he not decimated the budget of the Corps of Engineers and other agencies that are dedicated to strengthening America’s infrastructure. It would have been better had he believed that emergency management disaster professionals, not political hacks, should be in charge of America’s disaster response. It would have been better had he not reduced FEMA’s responsibilities and try to outsource the responsibility for disaster planning, rescue, relief and recovery to private industry.
More important, it would have been better if he wasn’t so fixated upon terrorism and launching a invasion of Iraq, to retaliate for that country’s dictator waving an assassin’s sword beneath George H.W. Bush, that he overlooked America’s needs.
As Katrina proved, the federal government, with innumerable problems fighting a war in Iraq, under the failure of leadership of its commander-in-chief, was caught completely unable to fight a two-front war. Because of the policies enacted by George W. Bush, Americans had every reason to believe that two disasters hit New Orleans - Katrina and the federal response.
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