From the New York Times:
After 10 days of often uncertain responses to the Bush administration’s management of Hurricane Katrina, Democratic leaders unleashed a burst of attacks on the White House on Wednesday, saying the wreckage in New Orleans raised doubts about the country’s readiness to endure a terrorist attack and exposed ominous economic rifts that they said had worsened under five years of Republican rule.
From Democratic leaders on the floor of Congress, to a speech by the Democratic National Committee chairman at a meeting of the National Baptist Convention in Miami, to four morning television interviews by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrats offered what was shaping up as the most concerted attack that they had mounted on the White House in the five years of the Bush presidency.
The display of unity was striking for a party that has been adrift since Mr. Kerry’s defeat, struggling to reach consensus on issues like the war in Iraq and the Supreme Court nomination of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. The aggressiveness was evidence of what Republicans and Democrats said was the critical difference between the hurricane and the Sept. 11 attacks: Democrats appear able to question the administration’s competence without opening themselves to attacks on their patriotism.
Not insignificantly, they have been emboldened by the fact that Republicans have also been critical of the White House over the past week, and by the perception that this normally politically astute and lethal administration has been weakened and seems at a loss as it struggles to manage two crises: the aftermath of the hurricane on the Gulf Coast and the political difficulties that it has created for Mr. Bush in Washington.
If you want proof that the Republicans are seeing this basically in terms of not how they govern but how they play politics, the designated hitter to respond to the Democratic senators and representatives wasn’t Scott McClellan at the White House but Ken Mehlman, chair of the RNC.
Here’s coverage of Howard Dean’s speech in Miami from the Miami Herald.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean on Wednesday sought to turn the chaos of Hurricane Katrina into a benefit for Democrats, decrying Republican priorities and telling black pastors in Miami that race played a “significant role” in the storm’s death toll.
Dean’s remarks to the National Baptist Convention of America came as Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman has made outreach to blacks a priority, meeting across the country with black community leaders.
But Dean, in remarks interrupted several times by applause, charged that Republicans in Congress and the Bush administration have not done enough to combat poverty. The pictures of primarily black storm evacuees huddled at the dank Superdome and stranded on rooftops, Dean charged, showed “the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not.”
“The question, 40 and 50 years after Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, is: How could this still be happening in America?” Dean said. He later added: “We have not swept poverty away in this nation. We have simply swept it under the rug.”
Senate Republicans who returned to the Capitol this week, Dean charged, were more interested in repealing the inheritance tax for the wealthiest Americans than in hurricane relief. The estimated $750 billion cost of the tax cut, he said, would be better spent rebuilding the battered Gulf Coast.
Dean didn’t criticize outright the pace of federal recovery efforts — as other Democrats did Wednesday with vehemence — but he suggested that GOP priorities have made a bad situation worse.
“Americans deserve better from their leaders,” he said in remarks prepared for delivery.
“We can’t simply talk about moral choices, we have to spend the money. You can have that leadership. My job is to get it, but I promised I wasn’t going to be partisan today.”
Saying that he wasn’t in Miami to wag “the finger of blame,” Dean nevertheless defended embattled New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, a black Democrat whom some Republicans have singled out for criticism.
“He’s an extraordinary man; he deserves our thanks,” Dean said. “What he doesn’t deserve is spin doctors in the Republican Party attacking him. The president doesn’t want to have fights about who to blame, then let’s not blame the local people.”
By the way, how’s that Republican movement to recruit more African-American voters going…?