Any journalist or pundit who uses any variant on the phrase “The oil rig disaster in the Gulf” coupled in any way with any implication that the disaster is, could be, might have been, or still might be “Obama’s Katrina” without also using words like “Superdome,” “bodies floating,” “old and sick left to drown,” “cattle pens,” and “air guitar” should follow up with words that pretty much say, “I resign as of the next commercial break or early deadline because I am morally and intellectually bankrupt.”
This one doesn’t seem to be catching on, I hope because it’s so obviously wrong-headed that no one with two brain cells to rub together or half a heart could take it seriously, but it’s out there. Serious journalistic types, not just Right Wing propagandists, have been wondering if what’s happening in the Gulf is President Obama’s Katrina.
To even raise the question as if it doesn’t answer itself with a resounding NO is to reveal a shocking misunderstanding of what made Hurricane Katrina George Bush’s Katrina.
It wasn’t just that Bush neglected the levees beforehand despite continual warnings that they were in perilous shape and that when Katrina had built to the point where it was clear that it was going to be one of the most ferocious hurricanes in the Gulf in decades and was heading for land he made no moves towards helping the states in Katrina’s path get ready.
It wasn’t just that after Katrina struck and the levees broke and large swaths of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and almost all of New Orleans were underwater Bush’s Homeland Security team was appallingly slow to take any action---they did not exactly rush to the rescue. Private citizens speeding in from faraway states in vans loaded with bottled water and other desperately needed supplies got into New Orleans ahead of Federal reinforcements.
And it wasn’t that he didn’t get the cleanup, repair, and recovery and rebuilding of New Orleans underway immediately.
(For as much as his Administration actually helped afterwards, it can be argued that he never really did get it underway; three and a half years later, when he left office, New Orleans was still in shambles. Meanwhile Mississippi, with its Republican governor, got attention and money stat.)
It was that Bush himself didn’t seem to care!
Bush’s Katrina was a moral failure.
While the worst was happening, while people were drowning, while people were dying from causes that could have been treated if they could have gotten to the hospital, while hospitals were deciding which of their patients they would have to leave behind to die, while people were clinging to the rooftops of their sunken homes waving for help that was not on its way, while people were being herded into what were essentially cages to keep them from leaving the city and left to broil there while bureaucrats tried to figure out what to do with them, while thousands and thousands of Americans were being left to swelter and suffer and sicken and die in filth without adequate supplies of water or food, Bush was to be seen on television playing air guitar.
This is true. He was on TV accepting the gift of a guitar he could only pretend to play and that’s what he did. There he was, looking like some teenager in his parents’ basement perfecting his moves for when he fronted the band he would form once he learned how to play.
And then the next we saw him he was out in Arizona delivering a birthday cake to John McCain.
It was as if he didn’t even know what was going on.
When he finally did start paying attention his first act was to stage a blatant photo op aboard Air Force One during a brief flyover above New Orleans. It was meant to remind people of the photo of him aboard Air Force One looking down on the smoldering wreckage of the Pentagon on 9/11.
What it did was make people wonder if that had just been a photo op too and if Bush had been just as disengaged then as he clearly was now.
And when at last he bothered to set foot on the ground down there it wasn’t to fire his criminally incompetent head of FEMA. It was to congratulate him on doing a “heckvua job.”
Then he went over to see Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and gave a little speech that implied that Bush himself would consider the disaster dealt with when the millionaire Lott’s mansion was rebuilt apparently, for all Bush made any distinction, with the same Federal help and money that was supposed to help not rich people who had been wiped out of everything.
Bush had shown himself up to be incompetent, that’s true.
But if the comparison between his handling of Katrina and Obama’s handling of the Gulf disaster hinges on whether or not Obama proves he is getting the problem under control and then goes on to fix everything, besides ignoring that this was BP’s fault, it reduces things to a debate over managerial skill, style, and decisions.
As I said, Katrina was not simply a failure of management. It was a moral failure.
What was astounding was that as a moral test it should have been easy to pass.
But what was absolutely damning for Bush was that it woke people up to his even greater moral failure---the war in Iraq.
Which, as if we only found this out in the late summer of 2005, two and a half years into the war, was also a spectacular managerial failure.
So far President Obama and his administration appear to be passing the managerial test. It’ll be a while before we know how well they scored. But there’s a limit to what they can do. Fishermen are already ruined and oil is washing ashore and oozing inshore.
But clearly he passed the moral test with flying colors right from the start.
Not that he should get much credit for that.
Taking care of the welfare of Americans during crises is what Presidents are supposed to do as a matter of course.
The only reason not to take it for granted is that Bush failed so horrifically.
That moral failure is what makes Katrina Bush’s Katrina.
That moral failure defines it and defines it to the point that the only way the Gulf disaster could be to Obama what Katrina was to Bush is if the President had pulled the Coast Guard out of there immediately and said, “What’s a few pelicans? Let the states deal with it, I’m taking the family to Disneyland!”
Since he did nothing remotely like that and in fact passed the moral test within seconds there was no comparison between him and Bush here. It was instantly not Obama’s Katrina.
So why was it even brought up?
Well, because the Right Wing Noise Machine brought it up.
We know the Right and its propagandists and apologists will say anything to smear and discredit Democrats and the Left and to hide and deny their own failures, crimes, and sins.
And we know how for the a decade and a half they managed to insinuate their lies and smears into the political debate and got the National Press Corps to “report” those lies and smears as if, not always facts, then as legitimate and credible points of view.
But why does the Media still fall for it? Why do they play along? Especially after Iraq and Katrina?
Because it’s easier than pushing back. Because they’re fat and lazy and that’s made them stupid. Because their thinking is facile and fatuous while their self-opinion is as high as a Greek god’s and they accept what ever trivial half-baked idea pops into their heads as a revelation unto genius.
Because it’s more important to them to be able to congratulate themselves on their lack of a liberal bias than to report the facts as facts.
Because they are corrupted by money, by celebrity, by vanity, and by cowardice.
What it gets down to is that the phrase “Obama’s Katrina,” even if said in order to show that this isn’t Obama’s Katrina, is another sign of the Beltway Insiders’ ongoing moral failure.
The Washington Post’s Michael Shear lays it out blunt and clear, although it’s frustrating that he has to:
The gulf oil spill is no Katrina, in which 1,836 people died amid the near total devastation of one of America's great cities…
Good for Shear, but his analysis is still maddening because he treats both disasters as simply problems of management:
Unlike Katrina, there has been no obvious failures of government, no images to compare to the Superdome or the flooded streets of St. Bernard Parish. And unlike Katrina, there is an easy target for blame in the current oil spill: the oil giant BP, which by law is the "responsible party" and must pay for all of the costs of the cleanup.
And even worse, he presents Bush’s failure as being foremost a political failure and President Obama’s main task being the containment of any political damage:
As President Obama prepares for a Sunday morning visit to the gulf coastline, where a massive oil spill threatens environmental devastation, his administration faces the politically tricky task of appearing in control of the response while avoiding the blame.
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 proved how debilitating a disaster can be for a presidency if the public perceives that the administration did too little -- either before the incident or after -- to protect people, the environment or the economy.
Let’s not bother with finding out if the President actually failed to do his job. Let’s look at how well he appeared to be doing it and how successfully he avoided blame. Let’s examine how he was perceived, a purely subjective call that we the Insiders are the only ones qualified to make.
Well, it is the Post, one of the Insiders’ club newsletters, and that’s what it’s all about for the Insiders. Perception and political gamesmanship.
Those 1,836 people who died in 2005?
They just didn’t play well in the polls.
Hat tip to Steve Benen.
Related Mannion re-run from 2005: It’s not political; it’s moral!