Tuesday, September 13, 2005

"How do you like it now, gentlemen?"--Ernest Hemingway

Having commented on President Bush's remarks from yesterday, let's consider what he did (and didn't) say today (from Josh Marshall):

President Bush: Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong. I want to know how to better cooperate with state and local government, to be able to answer that very question that you asked: Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm. And that's a very important question. And it's in our national interest that we find out exactly what went on and -- so that we can better respond.

One thing for certain; having been down there three times and have seen how hard people are working, I'm not going to defend the process going in, but I am going to defend the people who are on the front line of saving lives. Those Coast Guard kids pulling people out of the -- out of the floods are -- did heroic work. The first responders on the ground, whether they be state folks or local folks, did everything they could. There's a lot of people that are -- have done a lot of hard work to save lives.

And so I want to know what went right and what went wrong to address those. But I also want people in America to understand how hard people are working to save lives down there in not only New Orleans, but surrounding parishes and along the Gulf Coast.

Josh Marshall seems to think this still leaves open the question: "Whose investigation?", and that's a valid point. But simply reviewing this plain language, it's clear little has really changed from yesterday. First, it isn't heroic or noble or brave of him to take responsibility "to the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right." It is his responsibility. Period. End of story. Whether he acknowledges that, or not, its still the elephant in the drawing room. Being responsible for the Administration of government is precisely the job he ran for; now he has it, and the only question is: how's he doing at it?

Pretty poorly, if the polls are any indication.

Nor is it just a matter of finding out "what happened" so "we can better respond." How about we should investigate because we don't pay people to be so completely incompetent, because the idea of accountability actually means something? We don't establish a government so it can utterly collapse in the face of its fundamental duty: to protect the people from disaster. The problem here was not the hurricane or the flood or whether or not people could have expected a levee to break. The problem is that the hurricane made landfall on Monday, having churned across Florida first then idled in the Gulf while it gained power and water, and it was Thursday at 2:00 a.m. before the first evacuees from New Orleans reached a clean and dry shelter. And Thursday evening the Secretary of Homeland Security and the head of FEMA still didn't know there were 20,000+ people at the New Orleans Convention Center! And despite being told the mobilization of the National Guard had no effective on responsiveness for disasters, the National Guard did not enter New Orleans until Friday!

And now we find out FEMA ordered 455 buses to rescue 20,000 people in New Orleans, cancelled the order, and then took until Saturday to get buses into the city. This was not a problem of "first responders," and it was not a problem of "Mother Nature." The problem is, this disaster was human-made, start to finish, and the Federal government bears primary responsibility for providing that protection and relief, and for the complete failure to do so! Not "adequately"! At all!

The problem is not "How did we respond?" but "Why didn't we respond at all?"

And one more thing, Mr. President: we know, more and more, "what went on." It played out on TV, it played out on radio: many of the most egregious lapses were apparent in public statements made by the people supposedly in charge. What we need to know know is: why? Why did government fail us so badly? Why did FEMA fall back from a cabinet-level department to a worthless nest of cronies with no experience and no apparent ability to do the job they drew government paychecks for? And that question, of course, means someone was responsible, someone screwed up, someone failed. And that someone is you, Mr. President.

E.J. Dionne is right: your era is over. Too bad it cost us the city of New Orleans, and so many lives, and so much misery.

As John Kerry said of President Bush's statement today: "The President has done the obvious, only after it was clear he couldn’t get away with the inexcusable."

It's time for that kind of governance to go away.

TEDIOUS UPDATE: I hadn't heard Bush's remarks, only read them, but wondered by JMM mentioned Bush's "speechwriters." Hearing Bush on NPR just now, it couldn't have been more obvious that every word was scripted, and he was reading from a text. He actually seemed to pause over the words, as if he was having trouble making them out, or deciding to let them pass his lips. A purely subjective observation, of course, but don't look for him to say that again.

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