Friday, March 03, 2006

Playing Gotcha with Katrina

As the streets on New Orleans were flooding, the Democrats were fuming that Bush was detached and uninvolved A picture of him on stage at a fundraiser was posted on the Democratic Underground.

Now the complaint is just the opposite - that Bush was involved and knew about everything ahead of anyone else but he still failed to act. Some of this is coming from ex-FEMA head Michael Brown who insists that he did everything right and that everyone else dropped the ball. Some of it is coming from congressional democrats who are looking for campaign issues. Some of it is coming from the press which continues to be fixated on New Orleans.

That fixation on New Orleans is important. Katrina was a huge storm so resources were strained by it but the reaction outside of New Orleans was about as good as can be expected.

New Orleans was a special case. There is still some debate over exactly what was predicted. NBC presented it both ways last night before finally showing a clip of someone saying that they expected water to overflow the levees ("overtop") but not to break the levees. That makes a huge difference in the response required. If the city had flooded but the levees held then the pumping stations would have returned the city to normal in a couple of days. With the floodwalls gone, the pumping stations had no place to pump the water so the city was flooded for weeks. So far no one has aired a clip of anyone saying that the floodwalls might break.

The thing about New Orleans is that no one had good information, not Bush, not FEMA, not Gov. Blanco, not Mayor Nagan, and not the news. Yesterday's clips included the White House asking if the levees had broken and Blanco assuring them that the levees had held. This was an hour after the floodwall broke.

It is appropriate to review the response to the hurricane to improve response to future disasters of this magnitude. It is inappropriate to spend so much time looking for a "gotcha" moment where Bush can be blamed for everything. I honestly expect a press statement from some prominent Democrat demanding to know why Bush allowed the hurricane to hit the US when he knew it would cause such destruction.

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