The New York Times has a good piece on the damage that Katrina did to George Bush’s carefully stage-managed post-9/11 image of the strong, resolute war preznit.
Katrina gave even those who were supportive of the president and thought he could do no wrong a much-needed dose of reality: with the horribly bungled response to Katrina, they had to admit that there is no there in this presidency. There was a veneer of resolute strength that was blown away for good by Katrina. Sure, we got glimpses from time to time of the man behind the curtain, such as with his bizarre performance during the debates with John Kerry, when he angrily told nobody in particular to let him finish and had some weird lump on his back that apparently held a transmitter of some kind. But that wasn’t enough. We were at war. You don’t change horses mid-stream, and all that.
But Katrina exposed just how unprepared the government was to respond to large-scale disaster. If the federal government can’t get buses to the Superdome, the thinking went, how can they protect us from terrorists?
Now, I personally think that the threat from terrorists has been vastly overstated — and I say this as someone who lives in New York and went through 9/11. No terrorist operation can cause the kind of destruction and disruption and loss of life that a large-scale natural disaster can. And has. But the Administration so hyped the threat from terrorists and so broadened the term so that anything and everything could be tied into terrorism somehow that the threat from natural disasters seemed, somehow, less terrifying than some rich guy getting dialysis in a cave in Pakistan.
And then we had Katrina, and the country had to acknowledge that the federal government fucked up. And if they fucked this up, there’s no way they can be trusted to keep us safe from terrorists. And if they can’t keep us safe from terrorists, then what in the blue blazes are we doing in Iraq, creating MORE terrorists?
And suddenly, Bush wasn’t such a popular president anymore. People forget that he wasn’t very popular at all on Sept. 10, 2001, and it was only because he said some things on a rubble pile and then clamped down on the press, calling anyone disloyal or unpatriotic who disagreed with him or questioned him, that he remained as popular as he did for so long.
And now, a year later, Bush plans to go to New Orleans to commemorate the anniversary of the storm that did in his popularity and exposed just how little substance there is in his Administration. He will probably not allow himself to be photographed where there are still piles of debris or unstable levees or wrecked houses. But the images of all those things, and the reality of the region, which is nervously eyeing Hurricane Ernesto as it moves into the Gulf, will haunt him nonetheless.
Heckuva job, Bushie.
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