Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bush to Pelosi: "What didn't go right?"

Here's the context:

President Bush is "oblivious, in denial, dangerous," when it comes to the plight of the storm's victims, charged House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Her Senate counterpart, Sen. Harry Reid, asked pointedly whether the chief executive impeded relief efforts by remaining at his Texas ranch last week while the storm churned toward the Gulf Coast...

Pelosi, speaking at a news conference, said Brown had "absolutely no credentials" when Bush picked him to run FEMA.

She related that she urged Bush at the White House on Tuesday to fire Brown.

"He said, 'Why would I do that?'" Pelosi said.

"I said because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week.' And he said 'What didn't go right?'"

"Oblivious, in denial, dangerous," she added.

It's hard to know what to believe sometimes, but is it so hard to believe that Bush governs in denial, that he lives in abject ignorance of reality? Look at Iraq. Look at the economy. Look at the so-called war on terror. Now look at the aftermath to Katrina. As I've said before, over and over and over again, there's a lot of blame to go around, and I'm not about to pin it all on the president, but, for God's sake, does he have any idea what's going on out there? (Any more of an idea than his mother?) Sure, he went down there and showed that he's a compassionate man, and I don't doubt his sincerity. (Nor do I think that he doesn't care about black people -- thanks for that snippet of idiocy, Kanye, you're a great help.) But is it really too much to ask that the president of the United States be even remotely competent, or that he show some leadership in a time of crisis? Sure, he just sat there reading to those children when he learned of the 9/11 attacks, but at least he emerged to unite the country, if only temporarily, in the days and weeks that followed. Now he just seems to be leading an administration that seems to have no clue what it's doing. None whatsoever. The two other key players, Governor Blanco of Louisiana and Mayor Nagin of New Orleans, haven't exactly shown much leadership skill either, but, well, I expect more from the president of the United States. Don't we all?

Kevin Drum responds to the Bush-Pelosi exchange here, and he includes a link to an impassioned Andrew Sullivan:

The president is still out of it. I must say that the Katrina response does help me better understand the situation in Iraq. The best bet is that the president doesn't actually know what's happening there, is cocooned from reality, has no one in his high-level staff able to tell him what's actually happening, and has created a culture of denial and loyalty that makes fixing mistakes or holding people accountable all but impossible.

Exactly. (I said much the same thing in a post earlier this evening at The Moderate Voice.)

Where's the accountability? Where's the sense of responsibility? Where's the statesmanship?

Show some, Mr. President, if you are in any way worthy of your high office.

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  • It's hard to know, obviously, what's going on in Bush's mind (plus, I am always skeptical of putting too much reliance on a conversation related by a partisan), but the Administration's reaction to this and other criticisms, I suspect, is part of a strategy related to the conservative distrust of the media. They assume that any admission of mistakes or responsibility will be played up by the "liberal" media, so better to simply hunker down and deny.

    On the other hand, to be fair, some of the criticism from Democrats has been so off the wall and so lacking in perspective that I can't really blame Bush for saying, in effect, "f--k you."

    The problem I have with some of the criticism is that it's so broad that you can't really pin it down. For example, you can criticize Mike Brown for not having any experience related to FEMA. But there have been tons of cabinet officials (both Democrats and Republicans) appointed to offices for which they had no obvious qualifications or experience. In a lot of cases, they did fine. To just say that Brown is not qualified and should be fired--in the middle of the crisis?--doesn't really get us very far. We don't really known, other than anecdotally and sort of common sensically, what role Brown's inexperience played in the problems.

    I think FEMA's response was obviously a problem. But we don't really have a baseline to determine what the response should have been. And we don't know specifically what FEMA did wrong or what role Mike Brown had in it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:52 AM  

  • One of the problems it seems to me -- and Marc, you hit on it -- is that there's nothing to compare this to. Some have drawn comparisons between Bush post-9/11 and Bush post-Katrina, but the two crises are vastly different. So how exactly should Bush have responded? To me, he didn't show nearly enough bully-pulput leadership in the first few days after the hurricane hit, but, again, that's easier said than done. Similarly, it seems clear that FEMA botched the early stages of its relief effort, but what should it have done? FEMA has been praised in the past for its hurricane relief efforts, but Katrina, needless to say, was a different sort of hurricane. Brown and Chertoff both look bad, as does Cheney, but it's important not to focus exclusively on the federal government. It's easy to say that the feds should have gone in and taken over, but, according to today's Times, that would have meant invoking the Insurrection Act. And while Bush could have shown more leadership early on, it seems now that Blanco blocked federal involvement and exhibited atrocious leadership at the state level. As did Nagin at the municipal level.

    This all goes back to my recent post on federalism (via Kaus). The partisan knives are out, but, to me, this is a matter of equal opportunity blame.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 10:50 AM  

  • Nate, all I can say is that I hope all sides learn a lesson, not just FEMA and the Bush Administration. It's easy to talk about dealing with a crisis, that is, to prepare for a crisis in theory, quite another to deal with reality.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 10:52 AM  

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