CommunityPam's House Blend

The bumbling administration gets an F


President Bush with Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Donald H. Rumsfeld; and Michael Chertoff, homeland security chief. (Pool photo by Dennis Brack).

[UPDATE: added the fun item at the end on the National Guard playing cards while NOLA disintegrated.]

An “F” as in “f*cked up”. I saw part of the Michael Chertoff press conference today, and I swear to god, this man is out to lunch. He was asked about the delay in getting National Guard boots on the ground, and he clearly winged an answer that was so preposterous that I almost woke up a napping Kate.

He said (paraphrasing) that they had to bring in qualified NG troops from around the country and get their gear and equipment ready so they could deploy, and that it takes time — unless there was some kind of catastrophic emergency. WHAT?! HUH?! Is there some kind of catastrophe meter he’s got in his back pocket where this kind of disaster falls below the threshold of what, nuclear holocaust?

Oy. Anyway, Editor and Publisher kicks Bush’s ass in this commentary. It’s spot-on.

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.

President Bush, in his weekly radio address on Saturday, said: “In America, we do not abandon our fellow citizens in their hour of need.” But Bush, and his top aides, quite frankly, did.

I was reminded of this today, seeing pictures of Vice President Dick Cheney finally showing up at the White House after riding out the storm-of-the-century in Wyoming. Perhaps he brought back with him a couple dozen trout to throw on the grill for the White House staffers.

His absence, and the president’s performance during it, can only add to the rumors that Bush is clueless without the Big Guy at his side.

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, beyond his inner circle, was focused on New Orleans instead.

What that trip did produce was a picture of Bush laughing with a country singer and strumming a guitar. But at least the president 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 goofy 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. Whoops, we discovered 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.

And what of FEMA chief Michael Brown? He was so out-of-it that he didn’t even know about 10,000 evacuees living and dying at the Convention Center, even after they had received wide TV coverage for a solid day.

The next day, the president greeted him with, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” A medal is surely on the way.

…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.

This is not mere incompetence, but dereliction of duty. The press should call it by its proper name.

***

The NYT wasn’t much kinder in its story, “As White House Anxiety Grows, Bush Tries to Quell Political Crisis,” but I found this section most illuminating.

Republicans said the perception among some blacks that the White House had been slow to respond because so many victims were poor and African-American undercut what had been one of the primary initiatives of the new Republican chairman, Ken Mehlman: making an explicit appeal for support among black voters, a constituency that has traditionally been overwhelmingly Democratic.

Given the racial component of this, and given the current political environment, there certainly seems to be a high level of risk to this story,” said a Republican Party official, who, citing the concern among party officials about the criticism, would only discuss the question on the condition of not being identified.

But Mr. Bush, reflecting concern within the White House about the president’s standing among blacks, notably said in his radio address that “we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters all along the Gulf Coast, and we will not rest until we get this right and the job is done.”

I’m still looking for some comments from the Bush pole-smoking pastors at the taxpayers trough on this whole mess. It’s been mighty quiet at Project 21. I also haven’t heard from these clowns:

Bishop Harry Jackson of the Hope Christian Church in Lanham, MD has gotten into political bed with Ken Mehlman and the GOP with his Black Contract With America (and received $824,000 in the runup to the 2004 election).

Bishop Sedgwick Daniels of Milwaukee’s Holy Redeemer Church of God in Christ buys into Bush’s faith-based initiatives and “values.”

Homophobe Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, TX is on board with the Bush American Taliban agenda.

Philadelphia’s Rev. Herb Lusk, pastor of the Greater Exodus Baptist Church has had his coffers filled with a cool million to run faith-based initiatives by the Administration.

Keith Butler, is pastor of the 21,000-member Word of Faith International Christian Center, says God is urging him to take on Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow to bring “biblical and pro-family values” to government.

Think they are going to put those faith-based dollars to work on the survivors of Katrina? I wonder how that new love-in with the Bush Admin and the GOP is working out for them right now?

***

Extra bonus F points:

“For 72 hours this police department and the fire department and handful of citizens were alone rescuing people. We have people who died while the National Guard sat and played cards. I understand why we are not winning the war in
Iraq if this is what we have.”

— New Orleans deputy police commander, W.S. Riley

Guardsmen ‘played cards’ amid New Orleans chaos.

A top New Orleans police officer said that National Guard troops sat around playing cards while people died in the stricken city after Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans deputy police commander W.S. Riley launched a bitter attack on the federal response to the disaster though he praised the way the evacuation was eventually handled. The National Guard commander, Lieutenant General Steven Blum, said the reservist force was slow to move troops into New Orleans because it did not anticipate the collapse of the city’s police force.

But Riley said that for the first three days after Monday’s storm, which is believed to have killed several thousand people, the police and fire departments and some volunteers had been alone in trying to rescue people. “We expected a lot more support from the federal government. We expected the government to respond within 24 hours. The first three days we had no assistance,” he told AFP in an interview.

Riley went on: “We have been fired on with automatic weapons. We still have some thugs around. My biggest disappointment is with the federal government and the National Guard.

“The guard arrived 48 hours after the hurricane with 40 trucks. They drove their trucks in and went to sleep.

Hat tip AmericaBlog on the E&P; column.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding