This is Rich
God, he’s good:
AS the levees cracked open and ushered hell into New Orleans on Tuesday, President Bush once again chose to fly away from Washington, not toward it, while disaster struck. We can all enumerate the many differences between a natural catastrophe and a terrorist attack. But character doesn’t change: it is immutable, and it is destiny.
As always, the president’s first priority, the one that sped him from Crawford toward California, was saving himself: he had to combat the flood of record-low poll numbers that was as uncontrollable as the surging of Lake Pontchartrain. It was time, therefore, for another disingenuous pep talk, in which he would exploit the cataclysm that defined his first term, 9/11, even at the price of failing to recognize the emerging fiasco likely to engulf Term 2.
On Thursday morning, the president told Diane Sawyer that he hoped “people don’t play politics during this period of time.” Presumably that means that the photos of him wistfully surveying the Katrina damage from Air Force One won’t be sold to campaign donors as the equivalent 9/11 photos were. Maybe he’ll even call off the right-wing attack machine so it won’t Swift-boat the Katrina survivors who emerge to ask tough questions as it has Cindy Sheehan and those New Jersey widows who had the gall to demand a formal 9/11 inquiry.
But a president who flew from Crawford to Washington in a heartbeat to intervene in the medical case of a single patient, Terri Schiavo, has no business lecturing anyone about playing politics with tragedy. Eventually we’re going to have to examine the administration’s behavior before, during and after this storm as closely as its history before, during and after 9/11. We’re going to have to ask if troops and matÃ©riel of all kinds could have arrived faster without the drain of national resources into a quagmire. We’re going to have to ask why it took almost two days of people being without food, shelter and water for Mr. Bush to get back to Washington.
Frank Rich makes up for John Tierney.