Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The blame game

Hurricane Katrina has the Bush Administration on the ropes. Forget the 10,000 or so lives lost, the half-million or more left homeless, the billions of property damage, and the untold environmental impact; for perhaps the first time in his political career, George W. Bush has taken a serious hit, which calls for swift and immediate action.

Too bad the administration didn’t act as swiftly and surely when the people of New Orleans needed their help. But when it’s the president’s political career that’s in jeopardy, no expense is to be spared.

How do Karl Rove and the Bush spin machine deal with the negative publicity generated by the government’s dereliction of duty in the Katrina disaster? By going even more negative, of course. When something is obviously the president’s fault, it’s time to start playing the blame game – and dump their problems on somebody else’s shoulders.

Hence this not-so-surprising report from the New York Times:
Under the command of President Bush’s two senior political advisors, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

Forget about containing the storm’s damage; it’s the political damage that really needs containing. Of course, there’s more:
It orchestrated visits by cabinet members to the region, leading up to an extraordinary return visit by Mr. Bush planned for Monday, directed administration officials not to respond to attacks from Democrats on their relief efforts, and sought to move the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials…

And what prompted this flurry of activity?
…Mr. Bush and his political aides rapidly changed course in what they acknowledged was a belated realization of the situation’s political ramification.

It wasn’t important enough for cabinet members to visit the devastated area when it was only the poor and the infirm who were suffering – road trips are only necessary when it’s the president’s poll numbers that are suffering. Forget the human toll; action is taken only when there is a political ramification.

The key bit, however, is the last one. Even though it’s fairly obvious that the slow and inept Federal response was the fault of the Federal government, Rove is trying to turn the tables and blame state and local officials instead. It’s typical Rove, and it stinks.

First off, it stinks that the Bush administration is putting more effort into their political response than they did to their humanitarian one. I recently wrote about the administration’s priorities; this just shows how misplaced those priorities are. I shouldn’t be surprised at the calculated callousness of Bush and Rove trying to make political points from others’ suffering – after all, that’s how they were able to turn the 9/11 attacks in 2001 into an electoral victory in 2004. No, what’s particularly galling is the insensitivity of doing it while people are still suffering, and doing it in such a way that it blames the victims for Bush’s own incompetence and indifference. Really, there ought to be a law against this sort of thing.

It stinks even more that the Bushies are trying to deflect the blame in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Some might call this spin; I call it lying – and they just might not be able to get away with it this time.

Thanks to 24/7 in-your-face television coverage of the disaster, the American public could see with their own eyes that the Feds were fucking this up big time. Yet the administration’s talking heads are out there on the news show circuit lying their asses off about everything being the fault of the locals. The governor didn’t fill out the proper paperwork, the mayor didn’t officially ask for their support, blah blah blah. I hope that our recently-awakened media and the public they serve see this as the administration’s version of a “the dog ate my homework” excuse, and call them on it.

I tell you, it’s heartening to see hacks like Michael Chertoff appear on Meet the Press and have Tim Russert hand him his head in a handbasket. Chertoff tried to spin the administration line about it being everybody else’s fault, but Russert wasn’t having any of it. Our boy Tim was like a pit bull, and Chertoff was left sweating and sputtering. If the media keeps on like this, the Bush administration will finally be caught in their own web of deceit.

Here’s the bottom line. Yeah, the local officials did their share of screwing up; someone should of thought to have some food and water waiting for the refugees in the Superdome, and maybe even station some police there to keep things under control. Nobody’s denying that. But the bigger issue is that it shouldn’t have taken the Federal government four days to respond to this disaster. The Feds should have rolled in Monday afternoon, Tuesday morning at the latest, in force and in charge. That didn’t happen, and you can’t blame the locals for that.

The Federal government’s insipid and inadequate response to the Katrina disaster is the fault of the Federal government, plain and simple. The blame is squarely on the officials in charge. If there is justice in this world, Michael Brown, Michael Chertoff, and all their direct reports should be fired for incompetence. In addition, Congress should hold hearings to determine if the government’s slow reaction was criminal in any way – and, if so, prepare the necessary indictments and letters of impeachment. This isn’t a little thing; 10,000 or so people lost their lives, a large number of which might have been saved by a faster, more sure response by the Federal government.

Yes, our first priority is to save those who still need saving, and then to help rebuild the area. But when that work is done, those responsible for making the catastrophe worse must be held to account. It’s not a matter of blame; it’s a matter of taking responsibility.

But that’s just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

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