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.

Waiting for a Leader

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 “I told you so’s” 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.

Indeed.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. bryan says:

    Indeed, Bush has been speaking about the Hurricane since it struck. He declared the areas a disaster area before it struck land. The NYT editorial board is clearly just trying to score points.

  2. Rodney Dill says:

    I hear John Kerry has a plan.

    I’m just sayin’

  3. LJD says:

    No matter what he said, it would have been wrong in the eyes of the NYT and others. If he had liquidated all of his persoanl assets to support the recovery effort, some one would have found some flaw or ulterior motive- claimed it was a PR move.

    Does any one seriously believe that wetlands could have possibly stopped this train wreck? They need their heads examined.

    Infrastructure decay? Wouldn’t the revered Clinton, during his eight years in office, be just a tiny bit implicated? Or do things decay all that rapdily?

    When, oh when will these Dumbocrats stop their whining? How can they sleep at night, using the suffering of millions to push their agenda?

  4. sgtfluffy says:

    Why is the NY times even relevant anymore?

  5. whatever says:

    Liberals have no problems dancing on the bodies of the dead in order to try to score political points. As with the Wellstone funeral, it always comes back to bite them. Notice that the political mouthpieces of the Left have the good sense to keep their mounth’s shut – so far.

  6. Herb says:

    Only an IDIOT would pay any attention to the NYT.

    I’m still trying to figure why anyone with any sense would buy a copy.

  7. M1EK says:

    The facts have a liberal bias in this case:

    It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.

    — Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 8, 2004.

    http://www.pnionline.com/dnblog/attytood/archives/002331.html

    Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA [Southeast Louisana Urban Flood Control Project] dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security — coming at the same time as federal tax cuts — was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

    http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001051313

    http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4200/is_20050606/ai_n14657367

    http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4200/is_20050207/ai_n10176537

  8. Lurking Observer says:

    Well, I think that the idea was that, in light of the disaster, Dubya would have done better by immediately issuing a mea culpa and pledging himself to getting the Kyoto Accords ratified.

    That, of course, would have the benefit of promptly ensuring that no further major hurricanes would hit, once the full impact of Kyoto is felt.

    But until then, every day w/o Kyoto makes Baby Jesus cry, and His tears lead to massive killer hurricanes.

    /sarcasm

  9. Ellen says:

    The Bush speech excerpts that I heard broadcast were different from what you quoted here. They included the statement that no one could have expected the levees to fail.

    Excuse me, Mr. President, but in the days before the hurricane struck, there were several news reports about the likelihood that the levees would fail, and the consequences to the city if that happened. Furthermore, when I was a university student 30 years ago, it was well known among people in the water resources and civil engineering fields that New Orleans was vulnerable to just the sort of catastrophe that occurred this week.

    News reports in the last couple of days have indicated that the failed levees were known to be weak, funds had been requested to repair them, but the Bush Administration had drastically reduced funding (nationwide) for this type of work.

    In this speech, the President came across as clueless. I don’t expect the President to have technical expertise on coastal flooding, but his level of cluelessness gives me zero confidence in the administration’s ability and resolve to meet current and future challenges in protecting the nation against the very real threats of flooding, sea-level rise, etc.

  10. Mike says:

    Have we forgotten what leadership is? It’s not any mystery what’s missing here–all the local officials, all the soldiers, all the cops and doctors and rescue workers are saying the same thing, that there is no “command and control”. The people with rescue supplies try to help but they get driven out because they have no security. The cops and soldiers try to restore order, but they don’t do any good because they have no rescue supplies.

    Hello? Who is it that has authority to give orders to EVERYBODY involved? Apparently, only one person. Well, yes, that’s a clear sign of a totally screwed-up bureaucracy, and much of the blame for that no doubt lies with the Clinton administration and with Congress. But that’s why the founding fathers created a strong president with almost unlimited authority in short-term emergencies; so that the president could step in and make decisions when faced with a crisis.

    I’ve seen eight presidents now, and this is the first time I’ve seen one refuse to step in and take charge when faced with a national emergency that demanded his leadership.

  11. Jen says:

    I’d have to disagree with several members posting on this topic as well as their egregious extraneous commentary.

    Clinton didn’t screw up FEMA bureaucracy- which is the bureaucracy that matters at this point. According to numerous sources, response from FEMA during the Clinton Administrations was second to none. There was an emphasis on collaboration between the Federal government and state and local governments; an emphasis on gathering the disparate forces together to deal with a crisis *as the crisis struck*- not after.

    Secondly, not only did FEMA hesitate once a state of emergency was declared by Gov. Blanco, an unnamed administration official went as far as to declare that FEMA was hamstrung by Gov. Blanco’s failure to declare a state of emergency. This was picked up and reported- erroneously- by the Washington Post and Newsweek. Thankfully, we live in the age of technology, and there is a *.pdf file of the letter from the Governor to the President specifically outlining what she believed the needs of the state of Louisiana to be and declaring her state of emergency. Go figure.

    Additionally, FEMA, in its great wisdom, turned down assistance from a number of sources, including several states. And these were offers made *before* the hurrican actually struck, before the mayhem, looting and disintegration into lawlessness. If this assistance had been accepted- or if FEMA had gathered together National Guardsmen, and whatever other uniformed, trained and available security forces, one could reasonably argue that the state of lawlessness that occurred could have been prevented.

    Where is Karl Rove? Perhaps he could have stopped the President from declaring that he- and the rest of the government- were woefully ignorant of the state of the levees surrounding New Orleans. If he’d asked anyone in Louisiana, they could have provided him the crib notes on the down low. When National Geographic covers the problem, you know it’s huge. When the Army Corps of Engineers complains about a lack of funding, you know you have a problem. Aren’t these guys the MacGuyvers of the US? Can’t they fix anything with a stick of gum and a paperclip? But it’s not just funding: it’s time that’s necessary to fix these types of long-term damages. But even if we’d devoted the time and the money to fixing the levee, we weren’t devoting enough time or money to making it safe to withstand a Category 4+ hurricane- which is what Katrina turned out to be. I can definitely say that the budget crisis we’re facing- the miles of red ink attributable to Iraq and tax cuts- is definitely part of this equation.

    If Bush- and the rest of his family- had liquidated their assets to help, it would have started to make up for the comments of his mother. Yes, most of the evacuees from New Orleans are underprivileged; but in what scenario are they now “better off”? Better off in the immediate sense of the words, as in, they’re no longer stranded in a tainted cess pool of a stadium in a tainted cess pool of a city, but how is being homeless, jobless, lost and far from home better than being impoverished but in understandable and familiar territory?

    Wellstone’s funeral degenerated into a free for all because rude and disgusting ignoramuses like yourselves couldn’t bear not to show up, even though they had been specifically asked not to. This is not forgiving Democrats’ behavior, but offered as a semblance of an explanation.

    Bush is even now failing to accept responsibility for any of this fiasco. It’s on the states’ heads and shoulders. Never mind that Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana are three of the most impoverished states in this country all with per capita incomes (in 2004 dollars) below $30,000. The states bearing the brunt of the burden of taking in evacuees, i.e., TX, AR, OK- at or around $30,000, but in most cases, just below. With their already strained social service systems- strained because of Bush tax cuts, job losses, rising gas prices- what the hell are the people going to do? Why is the estate tax cut even still on the table? Why is no one discussing an early sunset to some of these tax cuts to pay for this? Why would Bush even mention individuals’ giving to charity? Did he think we wouldn’t think of it ourselves? “That’s why I called the Cabinet together.” Oh, yeah? Where was Condoleezza? Too busy watching ‘Spamalot’ to get on the line and start thanking our allies for offering to help even though we have strained relations with most. Why is he congratulating the job “Brownie” is doing, when much of this mayhem was preventable- which is what FEMA is designated to do? Why is gas $4/gallon when ExxonMobil is scheduled to post a profit of $10B? And please, for the love of God, can someone tell me what experience George W. Bush has had that would lead him to believe that he “understands” what these people are going through? When was the last time he squatted and shat in a corner? When the entirety of his life’s work was lost in one fell swoop under a wave of dirty fucking water?

    If his first priority was saving lives, he and FEMA would have made more of an effort to get people out of the way. If his first priority was saving lives, a coordinated effort from the feds on down would have started well before Katrina struck land. He would have accepted help offered from Mayor Daley, Loudoun Cty, VA, from Florida, from Wal-Mart who had tankers of water available- and you know Wal-Mart just doesn’t give things away. He would have gathered up the governors from the surrounding states and had the discussion about who’s going to do what and when while he was hanging out at the ranch. And when his mama basically said, “Let them eat cake,” he would’ve backhanded her and sent her and his wife and his girls down to the nearest location they could volunteer and get that on camera to mitigate some of the damage her statement caused.

    Global warming is a real thing. Instead of mockingly referring to the Kyoto Accords, perhaps we should pull our heads out of our asses and at least make an attempt at doing less damage to the planet we all must share until we’re sure. How about exercising a little discretion every once in a while? Or is discretion hard to come by in your SUV? Why don’t we err on the side of caution, instead of ignoring the signs all around us? And when, oh, when can we get this boob, this bumbler and all his little ass-kissing friends out of office so we can get some real work done?