Last week in this space, I pondered one of Hurricane Katrina's more bizarre and less well-known legacies: a gender imbalance. The storm and its aftermath of shredded housing and wrecked local economies drove out twice as many young women with children as single men, turning New Orleans into a contemporary Wild West.
This week, new poll numbers show Katrina destroyed more than just New Orleans' gender balance: It also shook the faith most Americans used to place in the federal government's ability to respond to major disasters.
A new AP-Ipsos poll finds 57 percent of those surveyed feel at least somewhat strongly the country is ill-prepared for a major disaster, up from 44 percent just before Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29, 2005. This storm's detritus expanded the list of things the Bush administration cannot do well: It cannot launch, sustain, and finally win a war (e.g., Iraq and even Afghanistan); it cannot protect Americans from natural disasters no matter the amount of forewarning; it cannot undertake a massive and quick rebuilding effort once a region has been pounded (e.g., New Orleans is still filled with debris and many of its neighborhoods remain sparsely populated).
Perhaps it's not so surprising our trust in Uncle Sam is in repose. Last week, the president, whether purposefully or not, contradicted years of administration promotional jawboning. At a White House news conference, he was asked what Iraq had to do with 9/11 (whose anniversary is also approaching) and he said, flatly, "nothing."
Say what, Mr. President? I'm sure I spent months if not years listening to a White House tying ousted strongman Saddam Hussein to 9/11, as well as to weapons of mass destruction. Even Vice President Cheney is quoted as pointing to a "pretty well confirmed" pre-9/11 meeting in Prague between Mohamed Atta and a Hussein intelligence officer, continuing to do so long after this specious theory had been discredited.
What's a faithful American to believe in? Perhaps our ability to rebound after this crew leaves office.