In September 1965, a massive hurricane hit New Orleans. By the next day the president—a Texan in a time of war—was in the city, visiting a shelter. With no electricity in the darkness there, Lyndon Baines Johnson held a flashlight to his face and proclaimed, "This is the president of the United States and I'm here to help you!" Almost precisely 40 years later, when another horrific hurricane hit the city, the president was, again, a Texan in wartime. But rather than hurry to New Orleans from his Texas ranch, George W. Bush decided, three days after Katrina hit, to fly back to Washington first. Photographers rarely are allowed into the forward cabin of Air Force One, but consigliere Karl Rove and other aides summoned them so they could snap pictures of the Boss gazing out the window as the plane flew over the devastation. Republican strategists privately call the resulting image—Bush as tourist, seemingly powerless as he peered down at the chaos—perhaps among the most damaging of his presidency.And yes, the fish rots from the head:
And, of course, Bill O'Reilly continues to be a beacon of light in the darkness:
The president did not growl this time. He had already decided to return to Washington and hold a meeting of his top advisers on the following day, Wednesday. This would give them a day to get back from their vacations and their staffs to work up some ideas about what to do in the aftermath of the storm. President Bush knew the storm and its consequences had been bad; but he didn't quite realize how bad.
The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.
On the September 13 broadcast of The Radio Factor, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly claimed that "many of the poor in New Orleans" did not evacuate the city before Hurricane Katrina because "[t]hey were drug-addicted" and "weren't going to get turned off from their source." O'Reilly added, "They were thugs."
But he doesn't mention that the National Guard were at the Convention Center in New Orleans the week after the storm hit. Not on Friday; before that.
That futility was symbolized by the presence in the convention center for three of the most chaotic days of at least 250 armed troops from the Louisiana National Guard. They were camped out in a huge exhibition hall separated from the crowd by a wall, and used their trucks as a barricade when they were afraid the crowd would break in.She's right.
The troops were never deployed to restore order and eventually withdrew, despite the pleas of the convention center's management. Louisiana Guard commanders said their units' mission was not to secure the facility, and soldiers on the scene feared inciting further bloodshed if they had intervened. "We didn't want another Kent State," said Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, commander of the active-duty military forces responding to Katrina. "They weren't trained for crowd control."
In more than 70 interviews, with both military and law enforcement officials -- who were themselves sometimes inside the center -- and with many of the survivors who suffered over the course of several nights, a chilling portrait emerges of anarchy and violence, exacerbated by young men from rival housing projects -- Magnolia, St. Bernard, Iberville, Calliope.
"Everywhere I went, I saw people with guns in their hands," said Troy Harris, 18. "They were putting guns to people's heads."
Recounting their pleas for milk for their babies, for food, for protection, many survivors described the same sense of bewilderment and anger -- broadcast, surreally, on live television. "This is America," one woman shouted into the TV cameras. What she meant was, this is not supposed to happen here.