By: Richard Greene, columnist
While our fellow citizens along the Gulf Coast are bracing themselves for a hurricane and while most of the rest of us support them with our thoughts and prayers, others see it as a political opportunity not to be missed.
Almost every newscast, especially those produced by the liberal mainstream media, can’t stop from using the coming onslaught of Hurricane Isaac to bash former President Bush while Republicans prepare for their convention in Florida.
I’veheard constant references of how the approaching storm is an “eerie” reminder of the Katrina devastation seven years ago, that the Republicans are meeting under the “shadow of Bush and Katrina” and how Bush “failed” in his response to the Katrina tragedy.
Well, I’m real tired of hearing those perversions of the truth as the media continues to build a fictitious history of what President Bush did and didn’t do in dealing with the country’s largest natural disaster of our lifetime.
How, you may ask, can I say such things? Well, I was working for the president at the time - personally engaged in the Katrina response effort from day one and continued to be during the aftermath for many months following the onslaught of the big storm.
Almost all of what happened within the first week after Katrina slammed into New Orleans occurred while the Louisiana governor refused to ask for federal assistance. The problem was confounded by an ongoing argument between the governor and the mayor of New Orleans as to which of them was responsible for public safety in the city.
With little attention having been paid to it at the time or since, President Bush urged the governor and the mayor to order the evacuation of the city, which they delayed doing until about 21 hours before Katrina came ashore.
Had they acted sooner, even a couple of days earlier, most of those stranded in the flooded city would have been out of harm’s way. The city’s fleet of school buses that remained grounded in their parking lots and later photographed underwater could have accommodated those without transportation.
A bipartisan congressional report issued after an investigation of what took place in those first days concluded, “This extraordinary storm required extraordinary measures, which the governor and the mayor did not take.”
I will always remember the discussions that were taking place throughout the federal government about “federalizing” the response. That term means that the president, either with a request from the governor or by declaring the region in a “state of insurrection,” could take over the management of the rescue, response, and recovery efforts.
From my own witness of what was taking place in Louisiana, I thought the president had every justification for issuing such an order. Recognizing how unprecedented that kind of act would be, his delay in doing so was to show deference to a dysfunctional governor.
The governor and mayor were overwhelmed, lacked the resources or the legal authority to manage the catastrophe that was mounting by the hour. They had repeatedly declined the requests from the president and other senior members of his administration, to take over. The first of those requests was made on the day after Katrina hit.
Bush also gets the blame for FEMA’s “failures.” Even without an emergency declaration, FEMA has a role in assisting states and communities in disaster response. Holding a press conference with the president on his first visit to the devastated Gulf Coast, the governors of Mississippi and Alabama declared that the FEMA response “has absolutely been great.” Both governors praised FEMA director Mike Brown personally.
When the president approached the microphone, the first thing he did was to express appreciation to Brown for his leadership that the two governors had just praised. That produced the now infamous, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job!” quote that has vexed the president ever since.
Almost no one has ever heard that explanation of why the president complimented the beleaguered FEMA director, who was soon to be replaced in the wake of the growing crisis in New Orleans.
Later that same day, Bush found himself serving as referee in a meeting aboard Air Force One parked at the New Orleans airport. Trying to work out a combined effort of dealing with conditions that were then completely out of control, the president wound up in the midst of a shout fight among the governor, the mayor and one of Louisiana’s U. S. senators.
Others in attendance would later describe the meeting as bizarre and astonishing.
With the passage of a few more days of trying, without the governor’s authorization, to get the national resources mobilized, including the entirety of the U. S. military establishment, the governor finally relented and the federal government was able to seize control of the situation.
The events were constantly sensationalized by cable news reports that had their sights focused on the president just as surely as the sniper they said was perched on the Superdome holding back rescue bus drivers and medical workers.
Very little, if any, of the factual account of what happened in those first days gets mentioned. Instead, it’s always only about how Bush failed. The twisted media reports became the reality in the public consciousness.
And, we are seeing it again today in a shameful display of trying to get some political gain from the approach of what could be another tragedy in the lives of people in the path of an approaching storm.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor, served as an appointee of Pres. George W. Bush as Regional Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and currently is an adjunct professor in UT Arlington’s Graduate School of Urban and Public Affairs.