(Posted Thursday, September 1)
George Bush has one more day, if that, before his administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina becomes a huge political disaster.
Thousands are now predicted dead in the gulf states as a result of the storm and the flooding that followed. Thousands more are becoming increasingly furious at the lack of help from the federal government since Monday, when the scope of the disaster became clear. Bands of lawless thugs and looters are currently roaming the soaked streets of New Orleans, reportedly shooting at rescue helicopters and even hospitals. As one reads accounts of the mayhem in the south, the feeling of a political backlash building against the administration is palpable. Take this report, from an Associated Press writer in New Orleans, printed in the Guardian:
“An old man in a chaise lounge lay dead in a grassy median as hungry babies wailed around him. Around the corner, an elderly woman lay dead in her wheelchair, covered up by a blanket, and another body lay beside her wrapped in a sheet.
‘I don’t treat my dog like that,’ 47-year-old Daniel Edwards said as he pointed at the woman in the wheelchair. ‘I buried my dog.’ He added: ‘You can do everything for other countries but you can’t do nothing for your own people. You can go overseas with the military but you can’t get them down here.’”
Already, the New York Times op-ed page and the liberal Blogosphere have turned on Bush for his slowness to respond. Sure, that’s predictable, but the tone of mainstream news reports is also becoming incredulous, like this CNN report on the chaos in New Orleans, in which the subtext is: “How can a major American city be this chaotic four days after a natural disaster that everyone knew was coming, and everyone predicted was going to be a catastrophe?”:
“It’s hard to believe this is New Orleans. We spent the last few hours at the New Orleans Convention Center. There are thousands of people lying in the street.
We saw mothers holding babies, some of them just three, four, and five months old, living in horrible conditions. Diapers littered the ground. Feces were on the ground. Sewage was spilled all around. These people are being forced to live like animals. When you look at the mothers, your heart just breaks.
Some of the images we have gathered are very, very graphic. We saw dead bodies. People are dying at the center and there is no one to get them. We saw a grandmother in a wheelchair pushed up to the wall and covered with a sheet. Right next to her was another dead body wrapped in a white sheet.
Right in front of us a man went into a seizure on the ground. No one here has medical training. There is nowhere to evacuate these people to. People have been sitting there without food and water and waiting. They are asking, ‘When are the buses coming? When are they coming to help us?’
We just had to say we don’t know.
The people tell us that National Guard units have come by as a show of force. They have tossed some military rations out. People are eating potato chips to survive and are looting some of the stores nearby for food and drink. It is not the kind of food these people need.
They are saying, ‘Don’t leave us here to die. We are stuck here. Why can’t they send the buses? Are they going to leave us here to die?’”
Here is another report, from the Washington Post, that is getting a lot of play in the blogosphere today, and it highlights more precisely why Bush may be in huge trouble:
“This is mass chaos,” said Sgt. Jason Defess, 27, a National Guard military policeman who had been stationed on a ramp outside the Superdome since Monday. ‘To tell you the truth, I’d rather be in Iraq,’ where he was deployed for 14 months until January.
‘You got your constant danger, but I had something to protect myself,’ he said. ‘Three meals a day. Communications. A plan. Here, they had no plan.’”
The common thread that runs through Iraq and New Orleans is a failure to plan for the predictable unrest and civic disintegration that would follow a huge catastrophe (war, a Category 4 hurricane) in an area with rickety infrastructure and simmering social and ethnic tensions (Baghdad, New Orleans). Now, to American television viewers and web surfers, New Orleans is starting to look horrifyingly reminiscent of Baghdad. The latest breaking news headline from CNN: “New Orleans hospital halts patient evacuations after coming under sniper fire.” And beneath that: “Scene of Anarchy.”
The American people might give Bush a pass on failing to plan for the aftermath of the invasion in Iraq, but with their patience on that front fading quickly, they are not going to forgive him for failing to stabilize a major American city four days after a hurricane.
Where are the war ships that were supposedly dispatched to New Orleans? Where are the thousands of National Guard troops that are supposedly coming to restore order? Where are the buses that were supposed to have emptied the stinking refugee camp in the Superdome yesterday? How can Bush say, as he did this morning on national television, “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breech of the levees,” when, as is being reported everywhere today, everyone anticipated a breech of the levees, including people within his own administration whose calls for more funding for the levees years ago were ignored?
Bush will visit New Orleans tomorrow, and if the scenes of anarchy in the city continue up to and through his visit, he is toast. He has one more day.