Under intense pressure to show that he has learned the practical and political lessons of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush planned on Thursday to pack his foul-weather gear and head to Texas on Friday ahead of Hurricane Rita, trying to make clear that he is directing an all-out federal effort to cope with the storm.On the upside, the press is treating this as the photo op it so clearly is:
Mr. Bush, who was photographed strumming a guitar in San Diego on the morning that New Orleans was being flooded 23 days ago, appeared intent on ensuring there would be no off-message pictures this time and no question of where his attention was focused.
"Officials at every level of government are preparing for the worst," Mr. Bush said Thursday morning, adding that the officials were working together "to respond swiftly and effectively."
Until now, Mr. Bush has stayed away from disaster zones until the worst is past, out of concern that his presence would be a distraction. But after criticism for a less than hands-on approach immediately after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana coasts, Mr. Bush planned a Texas stop to look at preparations before the forecast arrival of the hurricane early Saturday.
Asked whether Mr. Bush's pre-hurricane advance work in Texas was anything more than a photo-op, the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, said the president "wants to go and be able to see some of the preparations that are under way" and thank police, fire, medical and other emergency personnel who are assembling to work on the storm.Not, of course, that Bush can do a damned thing as President except soak up valuable security personnel needed elsewhere in the state just now. And apparently his responsibility is to get face time with cameras as people scurry about doing the work of preparation and rescue, which he not only can't do, but shouldn't do.
"He is the president, and as he indicated to you all, it is his responsibility when it comes to the federal government's role in these hurricanes," Mr. McClellan told reporters, alluding to Mr. Bush's statement last week that he had ultimate responsibility for any federal failures involving Hurricane Katrina.
It's called a "chain of command." It's called an "organizational structure."
Also on the plus side, local news is saturated with concern for the poor and those without transportation, and every community on the Texas or Louisiana coast in harm's way is bending over backwards to help such people, which is almost a first. On the down side, the vaunted "every man for himself" American ethic, exemplified by so many John Wayne movies, has turned into "Where did all these other John Wayne wannabes come from, and what are they doing on my evacuation route?" News reports this morning indicate cars are still jammed on the major freeways of Houston, that even "contra-flow" has not opened the traffic spigot wide enough to get the roads emptied.
And while Rita looked as if she would delay for another day, it now looks as if she'll actually arrive early. But she's also headed for Port Arthur or Lake Charles, which puts Houston on the "clean" side. Hurricane force winds before we're done, and 10-15 inches of rain over the next 48 hours. Still, time to hunker down, and cars are no place to hunker down.
Wonder if the President has any management skills to bring to bear on that isue?