How Low Can They Go?
The desperation of the Republican spinners' efforts to whitewash the administration's failures in New Orleans by blaming local officials like Mayor C. Ray Nagin is pretty remarkable. Consider the following litany of facts:
1. The notion that FEMA had no responsibility or power to act in the early stages of the disaster is without basis. As the presidential disaster declaration makes clear, as early as Saturday, August 28 (two days before Katrina made landfall), the feds had legal authority to use any means necessary to "alleviate the impacts from the emergency." It's absurd to claim that the hands of the feds were legally tied.
2. Assuming that the mayor's office joined FEMA in making errors both before and after the hurricane struck (which seems very likely), whose errors seem more surprising and culpable? Who would you expect to be more knowledgeable and skilled at dealing with a disaster--the first-term mayor of New Orleans, or the head of a national agency specifically charged with planning for and dealing with disasters? And given the different levels of resources available, is it reasonable to expect a local government to respond as quickly and effectively as a national administration that can call on the US military as well as the personnel of FEMA and other government agencies?
3. Furthermore, as we draw these comparisons between Mayor Nagin and George Bush, let's remember that ten months ago Bush was reelected as the leader of the world's greatest superpower based almost entirely on the argument that he would "keep Americans safe." This is the man that the right believes deserves almost unlimited deference and fealty from Congress, the courts, and the general public, because of his great wisdom, boldness, vision, courage, strength, compassion, and character. Now Bush's partisans are reduced to defending him by saying that he is no worse than Ray Nagin. Too bad they didn't let us know before the election that this was actually where the bar was set.
4. Then consider the disconnect between the current Republican spin and their usual talking points. The Bush administration says they wanted to save New Orleans but were hampered by state and local officials. What happened to the myriad benefits of federalism, states' rights, and local control, all of which conservatives generally claim are crucial to responsive government?
Then, unnamed administration sources tell the New York Times (Friday 9/9/05) they were worried "about the message that would have been sent by a president ousting a Southern governor of another party from command of her National Guard." What happened to the usual conservative disdain for "political correctness"? What happened to the demonstrated readiness of Bush and his allies to violate custom and protocol so as to cut out Democrats from decision-making processes--for example, by repeatedly forcing votes on bills that Democrats in Congress are given no time to read?
Odd how the administration developed this exquisite sensitivity to the feelings of women and Democrats just in time to screw up the response to Katrina.
5. Finally, remember that Mayor Ray Nagin--a Democrat, we are constantly being told--was a Republican until three years ago. He switched parties just before the 2002 primary to facilitate his election in a heavily Democratic city. What's more, before becoming mayor, he was a cable TV executive with little political experience. In short, exactly the kind of business-oriented, "entrepreneurial," "outsider" candidate that Republicans generally swoon over.
But this doesn't matter any more than any of the other logical absurdities in the current rightwing posture. If it's necessary to slime Ray Nagin to protect Bush, they will slime away. Their tenacity is impressive--but the logical, moral, and political strength of their position sure isn't.