As millions of Americans deal with devastation and unimaginable loss in the hurricane hit areas, I wish I could say I was surprised to read in the 9/1/05 LA Times that an unnamed House Republican strategist sees in this disaster opportunity for the GOP and Bush:
"It gives us cover … Now everything is going to be about putting together a relief package quickly."
The cover is needed, it seems, due to Bush's falling job approval rating, at a low 45% on Tuesday, 8/30/05--not to mention a disasterous unjustified war likely to transform into civil war, and fuel prices rising to record highs.
But Bush has not had a good start at this new angle for gaining political capital: the LA Times reported that the "conservative Manchester Union Leader of New Hampshire has already criticized Bush for giving a speech about Iraq on Tuesday in San Diego, even as the death toll mounted from Hurricane Katrina."
As with Bush's delayed actions and displays of concern with the Indian Ocean tsunami, the sincerity of feeling behind this delayed response also seems questionable, especially as the opportunities for photo ops and vacuously articulated speeches mount. For sure, Bush has his sites on, once again, trying to convince the American public that he is presidential by APPEARING to be presidential—or appearing to be presidential to those who want or need to see him that way, which is probably around 45% of the nation, that same 45% who think he is doing a good job overalll, and who must have to work hard to maintain this fantasy, especially when there is little evidence of him caring about much other than winning elections and securing his neo-con victories.
Since any deep knowledge of Bush's actual level of care for the victims of Katrina seems as elusive as discovering the sincerity of the Christian beliefs he claims to possess, we might look to Bush's leadership with respect to the security provided for those victims—that is, what did Bush do to secure the victim's part of the homeland from natural disaster prior to Katrina? The answer here is much the same as with 9/11, that other time when Bush had such a grand opportunity to appear presidential despite shameful performance with respect to the matter at hand.
Instead of his usual apathy and inactivity when it comes to real issues of security (see "Railroading Security" below), there are clear signs that the executive branch actively hindered efforts to secure these regions from such disasters by blocking much-needed funding for much-needed Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) projects. Moreover, Bush's support for phony security issues, the war in Iraq, was a major factor in displacing these funds away from these much-needed projects. As billions are being spent in Iraq in weeks, the ACE got a very small fraction of the 250 million it claimed to need to finish its work in these areas.
According to Will Bunch, in his article, "Did New Orleans Catastrophe Have to Happen?", written for the Editor and Publisher: "In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain." As this article shows, the neglect, the displacement of funds away from real security-enhancing projects goes on and on. Furthermore, it is clear that the one third of Mississippi and Louisana's National Guard currently in Iraq would provide more security at home at this point, especially since they are risking their own lives fighting in a war that has already, and will continue, to stir up Jihadist terrorists worldwide. We should support our troops, and the recovery victims, by bringing them home.
I just heard on NPR that a New Orleans official has called FEMA's response so far "a national disgrace." Under Clinton, FEMA was a cabinet-level agency. It is now part of Homeland Security. Given the fact that DHS is grossly under funded--primarily due to the cost of the war in Iraq, and a grossly mismanaged budget and government in general, including Bush's unwillingness to back off of tax cuts for the wealthy—what money is in DHS coffers has mostly been used for terrorism-related projects (again, see "Railroading Security" below for an example of how Bush neglects DHS in general, an agency he had to be pushed into forming). The Bush administration has clearly neglected FEMA, even after 2004, the worst year for hurricanes on record. 2005 seems to be vying for this title now that Katrina is the most expensive natural disaster on record, beating out Andrew of 1992.
What is clear is that disaster preparedness of the kind so needed before and after the crisis caused by Katrina has been a low priority for the Bush administration. Bush is neglecting his job. He is so clearly a terrible leader.
Just as we will never hear Bush apologize for the lives lost in Iraq, we will never hear him apologize for the lack of leadership he has shown with respect to preparedness for Katrina—that is, the millions of lives lost, ruined, or terribly disrupted that would not have been had proper leadership been in place. A good leader will say "the buck stops here." We all know we will never hear Bush say this.
Instead, we will see Bush standing in the rubble, hugging fellow Republicans, while making speeches expertly prepared to raise his approval ratings in order to gain "political capital." He won't be making speeches about "Iraqi freedom" for a while. Only in a country where "support our troops" means support a war and President responsible for the deaths of hundreds of troops could a president who cut funding for the specific disaster preparedness (the very disaster preparedness which would have saved lives when Katrina hit)—could that president seek "political capital" via grandstanding during belated recovery efforts. He should be ashamed of himself, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for letting him get away with it -- if he does.
Please support the Red Cross's recovery efforts here.