Saturday, May 16, 2009

Katrina, real and imaginary

Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters in US history, and the Federal response to the Katrina Hurricane stands out as one of the worst man-made PR disasters of the Bush Presidency. For the Democrats, though, its been a boon: They've used it to hang many sins around Bush's neck, tarnish his reputation wrt 'competence', accuse him of racism/uncaring, in the process turning Katrina into a myth of how Bush did 'nothing' or was a massive "fail".

I saw this come up in a NextRight discussion on the failures of Bush and Obama, where Bush failures were summed up:

One word: Katrina.
A party that does not believe in government cannot run government.

Ah, the Katrina of Democrat mythological lore, where do-nothing Bush did nothing, fiddled while New Orleans flooded.

Bravo to the Dems for constructing a narrative around Katrina and getting away with it, but it was always a fictional one. They blamed Bush and FEMA for failures that were mostly at the state and local level in Louisiana/New Orleans, and they got away with it, thanks to the McClellan-level Bush PR and a liberal MSM driving home the bias. They took a strawman ("does not believe in government") and a slanted view of what went down in New Orleans and turned it into a rallying call.

When in came up, I gave a response to the myth. Since this is a major brick in the liberal 'narrative' on the Bush era, I believe it is worthy of more extensive discussion/resolution. Without absolving Bush, Chertoff, DHS and FEMA completely, it is certainly the case that the Democrat spin on this is massive hyperbole and distortion. They've created a Katrina mythology at odds with the real story.

The spin and counter-spin on Katrina started less than a week after the event itself. Here is Jack Kelly with a column within 2 weeks of the event noting:

Journalists who are long on opinions and short on knowledge have no idea what is involved in moving hundreds of tons of relief supplies into an area the size of England in which power lines are down, telecommunications are out, no gasoline is available, bridges are damaged, roads and airports are covered with debris, and apparently have little interest in finding out.

So they libel as a "national disgrace" the most monumental and successful disaster relief operation in world history.

In the real world the folks close the real action who saw beyond the MSM narrative saw this:

  • Louisiana voters replaced a failed Democrat governor with a dynamic reforming conservative Republican Governor.
  • Here in Texas, Katrina was a stellar example of neighbor helping neighbor, as Governor Rick Perry, cities in Texas, and people, church groups and agencies and organizations pulled together to help the many thousands who were displaced. Hundreds of thousands of Katrina victims found temporary shelter in Texas.

I also remember the flooded schoolbusses:

While they whined about lack of help from the Federal govt and the rest of the country, and demanded busses, here is what the city of New Orleans let happen to their own busses:

After letting this happen, losing 300 busses in the process, Mayor Nagin says: "I need 500 buses, man. We ain't talking about -- you know, one of the briefings we had, they were talking about getting public school bus drivers to come down here and bus people out here. I'm like, “You got to be kidding me. This is a national disaster. Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans."

It gets worse: the New Orleans disaster recovery plan directed that municipal buses would be available for those without private transportation. So much for the plan.

Let me guess the answer from the Bush haters: Flooded school buses a quarter mile from the Astrodome that nobody thought to drive to higher ground? Bush's fault!

In fact, busses were scrambled from other states, due to the fact that New Orleans didnt take care of this themselves. As Jack Kelly notes, they arrived within 48 hours of the time the levee broke in New Orleans. Given the logistics involved, this is an achievement.

I got further response on the NextRight thread, to which I added more further points:

Well, let's see. Certainly everyone involved is to blame. The mayor, the governor, and the president.

And certaintly that balanced view that local and state Democrats shared blame for errors in the response has never been the Democrat talking point line on this. It's all "Bush's fault." Nor is it often acknowledged in the Bush-bashing that having a cat 5 storm land on top of a major city and having an entire city flood will inevitably cause suffering even with perfection from emergency responders.

Most importantly, the state and local officials are the first line on defense on this - they screwed up bigtime in 2 particular respects:

1. Failure to order evacuation properly. Nagin initially made the evacuation a voluntary evacuation, made it mandatory too late (Sunday), and did not implement many of the steps laid out in emergency response plans. (including using city busses to help in evacuation.) He and other local officials also are the ones who created the superdome fiasco, by telling people to go there but not being prepared to handle the large numbers of people for more than 24 hours.

The primary responsibility for dealing with emergencies does not belong to the federal government. It belongs to local and state officials who are charged by law with the management of the crucial first response to disasters. First response should be carried out by local and state emergency personnel under the supervision of the state governor and his emergency operations center. The actions and inactions of Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin are a national disgrace due to their failure to implement the previously established evacuation plans of the state and city.

A commenter mentions:

What is interesting is that Bush had a teleconference just 2 or 3 days before the hurricane struck. They went through every detail on this hurricane.

What you dont mention is that Bush called Blanco and Nagin personally to get them to order an evacuation. Nagin waited until the last moment to to do that, waiting until Sunday to order mandatory evacuation. One source notes:

It apparently took a personal call from the president to urge the governor to order the mandatory evacuation.

One shudders to think how worse it would have been if Bush HAD done nothing.

2. Failure by Gov Blanco to call the national guard out sooner and to manage to control looting in New Orleans. Nagin himself complained that Bush met with Blanco offered to help and Blanco asked for 24 hours to make a decision. She was too worried about political ramifications to make quick decisions; these folks were more interested in CYA than in 'get 'er done' action.

The commenter on the thread recounts the 'conventional wisdom' view of 'what took so long':

I think it struck over the weekend and it was a Wednesday morning that Bush shows up in Louisiana saying " Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." Now all of us sat in front of the TV for some 2 or 3 days waiting for a response and we had none.

Bush is blamed for 'slow response' but in fact in practically all cases it takes a number of days (3-5) to be on the scene from the Federal level. As one source noted:

For instance, it took five days for National Guard troops to arrive in strength on the scene in Homestead, Fla. after Hurricane Andrew hit in 2002. But after Katrina, there was a significant National Guard presence in the afflicted region in three.

Commenter states:

It was truly amazing that the federal government was nowhere to be found.

Which is untrue - Coast Guard, Navy and FEMA pulled thousands from rooftops ... As Bush put it ... "- 30,000 people were pulled off roofs right after the storm moved through. That's a pretty quick response."

They were there, they just werent where the TV cameras were (eg at Superdome). A comment from 9 days after the storm on what WAS done in just that short term:

I write this column a week and a day after the main levee protecting New Orleans breached. In the course of that week:

*More than 32,000 people have been rescued, many plucked from rooftops by Coast Guard helicopters.

*The Army Corps of Engineers has all but repaired the breaches and begun pumping water out of New Orleans.

*Shelter, food and medical care have been provided to more than 180,000 refugees.

Commenter says:

Instead of saying "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job", he should have kicked some ass.

Bush and the Feds /DHS had their eyes off the ball initially in first 1-2 days. But by Day 4 after the flooding, Bush met with Nagin and Blanco and toured the area and said 'The response is not acceptable'. Bush himself, not happy with the response in the first week, put Gen Honore in charge of coordinating the response. Within 2 weeks, Brownie was fired. Ass was kicked. And Bush supported pouring $100+ billion in aid for recovery of NOLA area.

Commenter states:

Some of this was the governors fault too. However, we should have had some response by the president well before then, but got nothing.

"Nothing" is false. Maybe Bush/FEMA/Feds should have done more faster. But "Nothing" is precisely the mythical strawman pretend-Katrina that the Democrat and liberal MSM allies created. The FEMA response may have been slow and disjointed in the first week, with too much red tape out of DHS/Chertoff, and with the overall response much hampered by incompetence by Nagin wrt evacuation and superdome etc. and indecisive non-leadership by Gov Blanco. But there was never "Nothing" to the response. Not when thousands of Coast Guard missions and hundreds of FEMA agents were ongoing in the first week, and not when an entire city of people was eventually housed in cities in many neighboring states.

Somehow that same Bush FEMA managed to adequately help with Katrina in Miss., Rita in Texas, a number of hurricanes in 2004 and other disasters before and since, and get good to great reviews in most instances. But then in these other disasters, it befell cities and states less prone to blame-gaming and more able to take initiative at the local / state level to do what needed to be done.

Commenter states:

Bush, by trying to save money, dismantled FEMA and put it in Homeland Security.

Another canard. It was not dismantled. It existed. Being under DHS did not make FEMA go away or lose any funding. the reponse may not have been what it should have been, but it was there.

I will leave you with yet another response from one who was there, I found while researching this just now:

Hey Rhettswife...let me congratulate you on your smart comment. I am a democrat and have been my entire life but to blame Bush for Katrina is absolutely ridiculous. All of us that lived thru it should remember how we were warned that this was the big one...that we needed to leave Nola. The people that stayed should not blame the government...they should blame themselves for being ignorant and stupid. If there is anyone that should have been blamed as well for this fiasco should be Car 54 where are you? This moron that was elected as our mayor was as dumb as the people that stayed. This city will never prosper because we have nothing but whiners that are use to handouts.

The bottom-line here is that the "Bush-did-nothing on Katrina" meme is false. The record needs to be corrected on this.

See also:

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