A heck of a job
If you want to know what went wrong with the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, just examine the following statement by Dick Cheney.
When asked by a reporter why he did not return from his vacation earlier than last Thursday, three days after the hurricane hit, the vice president replied: "I came back four days early."
And you can see why Cheney is so testy. He had to miss four days of his vacation to help a bunch of people who probably had never voted Republican in their lives.
The same sense of irritation was noticeable in the initial post-Katrina public appearances by President Bush (though his handlers now seem to have him under control).
It was a sense of "Why me?" Wasn't a quagmire in Iraq enough of a burden? In addition to his own man-made disaster, did he have to deal with a natural disaster, too?
Bush, his supporters once bragged, was a president in the mold of Ronald Reagan: a man who knew how to delegate, knew how to pick good people and let them do their job.
Michael Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), was one of those good people.
Brown had no actual qualifications for the job save one: He was a college buddy of Joe Allbaugh, a Bush crony, who, along with Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, formed part of the Texas "iron triangle" that helped Bush get elected to the presidency.
Hiring political hacks and cronies has always been a presidential prerogative. But these hacks used to be dumped in places like the old Post Office department (which goes a long way to explain why the mail has always been screwed up).
But dumping hacks and cronies in an agency in charge of federal emergency management? Isn't that a recipe for disaster?
Well, yes. George Bush is out of the Ronald Reagan school: disengaged, affable, dependent on and loyal to his subordinates.
So even when it was clear that Brown had done a terrible job in helping people after Katrina, what was the reaction of George Bush?
"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," Bush said on Friday, September 2.
A week later, Brown was booted back to his desk in Washington by Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. He has now resigned.
Nancy Staudt, a visiting professor at Northwestern University School of Law and a specialist in how government institutions make decisions, said in a release: "At the time Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Michael Chertoff, the DHS secretary, and FEMA Director Michael Brown did not have the necessary expertise to undertake emergency relief efforts."
Expertise? Who said anything about expertise? This is government.
Bush's polls continue to nose-dive. ABC reported Monday that "more than six in 10 say the administration lacks a clear plan to handle the situation caused by the hurricane and subsequent flooding. The percentage of Americans who think there's no clear plan is somewhat higher now than it was in an ABC News/Washington Post poll on September 2 when 80 percent of New Orleans was under water."
In other words, even with the waters receding, even with the horror shows at the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center over, the public's view of how Bush handles emergencies is going down.
Further, "independents are about twice as likely to strongly disapprove as to strongly approve" of Bush's performance post-Katrina."
As ABC's political newsletter, The Note, wryly observes, "That will be read with some concern among those GOPers whose names will be on ballots next November."
Georgie, you're doing a heck of a job.