Katrina: New York Times Denounces Bush Disaster Speech
The New York Times editorial page says President Bush’s remarks on Hurricane Katrina were too little, too late.
George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.
We will, of course, endure, and the city of New Orleans must come back. But looking at the pictures on television yesterday of a place abandoned to the forces of flood, fire and looting, it was hard not to wonder exactly how that is going to come to pass. Right now, hundreds of thousands of American refugees need our national concern and care. Thousands of people still need to be rescued from imminent peril. Public health threats must be controlled in New Orleans and throughout southern Mississippi. Drivers must be given confidence that gasoline will be available, and profiteering must be brought under control at a moment when television has been showing long lines at some pumps and spot prices approaching $4 a gallon have been reported.
Sacrifices may be necessary to make sure that all these things happen in an orderly, efficient way. But this administration has never been one to counsel sacrifice. And nothing about the president’s demeanor yesterday – which seemed casual to the point of carelessness – suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis.
While I am usually disappointed in the quality of President Bush’s speeches, this level of vitriol is unfair.
“A day late”? The disaster is ongoing and its extent is still only a guess. What is it that he would have said Tuesday that would have been of any help? And to whom would he have been speaking? The people most affected by Katrina were hardly gathered around Monday and Tuesday awaiting encouragement from the commander-in-chief.
And what sort of “words of wisdom” was he supposed to dispense? As wealthy and scientifically advanced as our country is, we haven’t a clue how to deal with disasters of this scale. Indeed, that’s what makes them disasters.
The president’s speech was hardly inspirational, but it certainly conveyed the gravity of the crisis:
As we flew here today, I also asked the pilot to fly over the Gulf Coast region so I could see firsthand the scope and magnitude of the devastation.
President George W. Bush stands with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and Mike Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services, as he speaks to the media from the Rose Garden of the White House regarding the devastation along the Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Katrina. White House photo by Paul Morse The vast majority of New Orleans, Louisiana is under water. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses are beyond repair. A lot of the Mississippi Gulf Coast has been completely destroyed. Mobile is flooded. We are dealing with one of the worst natural disasters in our nation’s history.
And that’s why I’ve called the Cabinet together. The people in the affected regions expect the federal government to work with the state government and local government with an effective response. I have directed Secretary of Homeland Security Mike Chertoff to chair a Cabinet-level task force to coordinate all our assistance from Washington. FEMA Director Mike Brown is in charge of all federal response and recovery efforts in the field. I’ve instructed them to work closely with state and local officials, as well as with the private sector, to ensure that we’re helping, not hindering, recovery efforts. This recovery will take a long time. This recovery will take years.
What more was he to say to convey the scope of the tragedy?
As to reassurance that public needs will be met, the president spent the next several paragraphs of the speech outlining a three point plan for what the federal government is doing. That included a list of supplies being brought in, which is apparently bad.
The gas crisis?
The Department of Energy is approving loans from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to limit disruptions in crude supplies for refineries. A lot of crude production has been shut down because of the storm. I instructed Secretary Bodman to work with refiners, people who need crude oil, to alleviate any shortage through loans. The Environmental Protection Agency has granted a nationwide waiver for fuel blends to make more gasoline and diesel fuel available throughout the country. This will help take some pressure off of gas price. But our citizens must understand this storm has disrupted the capacity to make gasoline and distribute gasoline.
Calls for sacrifice?
I want to thank the communities in surrounding states that have welcomed their neighbors during an hour of need. A lot of folks left the affected areas and found refuge with a relative or a friend, and I appreciate you doing that. I also want to thank the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army and the Catholic Charities, and all other members of the armies of compassion. I think the folks in the affected areas are going to be overwhelmed when they realize how many Americans want to help them.
At this stage in the recovery efforts, it’s important for those who want to contribute, to contribute cash. You can contribute cash to a charity of your choice, but make sure you designate that gift for hurricane relief. You can call 1-800-HELPNOW, or you can get on the Red Cross web page, RedCross.org. The Red Cross needs our help. I urge our fellow citizens to contribute.
What more did the NYT editors want? The closing paragraphs of the editorial provide a clue:
While our attention must now be on the Gulf Coast’s most immediate needs, the nation will soon ask why New Orleans’s levees remained so inadequate. Publications from the local newspaper to National Geographic have fulminated about the bad state of flood protection in this beloved city, which is below sea level. Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier islands that could have held back the hurricane’s surge? Why was Congress, before it wandered off to vacation, engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some of the gaping holes in the area’s flood protection?
It would be some comfort to think that, as Mr. Bush cheerily announced, America “will be a stronger place” for enduring this crisis. Complacency will no longer suffice, especially if experts are right in warning that global warming may increase the intensity of future hurricanes. But since this administration won’t acknowledge that global warming exists, the chances of leadership seem minimal.
Apparently, the president was to come up with a comprehensive plan for preventing damage from future hurricanes in three days–actually two, since the speech was a day late. And, of course, he was supposed to tell people to stop driving SUVs, because we didn’t have hurricanes before they became popular.
crossposted to OTB-BS
Update: Bryan S. notes that many others are already using the disaster to push their political hobby horses.
I would like to suggest to the New York Times editorial board, Paul Craig Roberts, the Corner, and anyone else who is hoping to score some Ã¢€œI told you soÃ¢€™sÃ¢€ or other political points off of this incredible disaster that they sit down and pop open a big ole can of Shutthehellup.
Katrina victim Paul @ Wizbang, who has written a long open letter to his follow pontificators:
If you think you are more qualified to run the city then the people running it, then by all means when the next election cycle comes around, come on down and throw your hat in the ring. If you think you could have stopped the hurricane if only everyone had listened to you… well I can’t help ya.
Let’s get some work done and play Monday morning quarterback sometime in early 2006. There’s about million or so of us who would prefer it that way.