by Ben P, Sat Sep 03, 2005 at 02:36:07 PM EDT
While a rising chorus in the press has taken the White House, FEMA and the Pentagon to task for performing miserably in their response to the human disaster on the Gulf Coast, few have focused on the most telling aspect of the entire failure. It's not just incompetence. It's a shameful lack of concern: The 9/11 "My Pet Goat" dithering on an administration-wide scale.
Simply stated, the president and his top advisers chose vacation over action.
While the media has done a good job in portraying the overall deadly failure of leadership, it has not focused enough on this deadly dereliction of duty....
This follows Bush himself remaining on vacation for more than two days after the storm hit, despite acknowledging this was the worst disaster in the nation's history. He did take a trip during those days, not back to Washington but out to San Diego to deliver a political speech comparing his Iraq war to World War II. It got little play because nearly everyone else in the country, besides his inner circle, was focused on New Orleans instead. If this didn't have fatal consequences one would be tempted to merely say: Serves him right.
But at least Bush did start heading home late Wednesday. As he did, Secretary of State Rice was still enjoying her vacation in New York.
In fact, that night she enjoyed a few good yucks while attending the silly Broadway play "Spamalot." Ironically, the Bush team's performance this week did indeed seem like something out of a Monty Python skit. Each, in his or her own way, took a bunch of "silly walks."
Condi also played tennis with Monica Seles and on Thursday went on a shoe-shopping spree on Fifth Avenue until a fellow customer yelled at her for not doing her job and bloggers exposed all of this. Then she hurriedly headed back to Washington. Turns out she was overdue in getting a grip on offers to help that were pouring in from overseas governments and organizations.
Paging Andrew Card: Turns out he was Bush's Maine man....
While the 9/11 "My Pet Goat" episode was certainly illuminating, it's not certain what might have worked out better that day had the president dropped the book and taken action. But his failure to grab the reins in the hurricane catastrophe for three days this week probably doomed hundreds, or more, to death.
Now certainly, the relevant local and (especially) state authorities deserve some blame here. But in a catastrophe of this magnitude, covering several states, an disaster area "the size of Great Britain" (George Bush's own description), simple common sense dictates that the buck ultimately stops with the federal government.
If I have any problem with this article, it is that I think the comparison made to "My Pet Goat" in fact minimizes the sheer incompetence of the administration's response. I've always felt the "My Pet Goat" criticism was a bit of cheap shot. Clearly, the Bush administration was, in fact, on top of the events of 9/11 within a day of them having occurred. In the aftermath of Katrina, charitably, one could say the response began on Wednesday night, but it was not until Friday that any sense was given that the government, a) understood the sheer magnitude of what had occurred, and b) was able to implement any kind of plan to mitigate its effects. So, in other words, what took less than 24 hours in the wake of 9/11 took four days in the case of Katrina, a disaster whose direct human and material costs is going to be much higher. Simply put, I had the feeling for much of this week that the federal government ceased to function.
Indeed, that the Bush administration and its various fellow travellers and PR flacs are right now so desperately trying to deflect blame - "we couldn't have anticipated this,""its Blanco's fault,""its Nagin's fault" (needless to say were not just talking about New Orleans or Louisiana here) - shows they know as much.