Saturday, September 24, 2005

Try, Try Again

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

I can’t help but think that the response to Hurricane Rita on the part of the federal government is overcompensation for the tragic blundering of Hurricane Katrina. President Bush was on this storm like stink on garbage and running the risk of being underfoot as the first responders tried to position themselves in anticipation of the wobbly storm. The people of Houston tried to do what the people of New Orleans didn’t — get the hell out — and turned the interstate between the coast and Dallas into a parking lot. In a way, it proves that the second-guessers about how New Orleans was handled were wrong again; even if New Orleans could have gotten all their people together and tried to evacuate, the interstate system in Lousiana couldn’t have handled the crush.

I know it sounds incredibly cynical to say that the response to Rita is less about prudent safety and preparedness than it is about political ass-covering, but that’s the way it looks. Mr. Bush, who made his career and confounded his critics with his tough talk about being a “strong leader” was caught vacationing when the first storm hit and compounded it with a response that made Jimmy Carter look like Chuck Norris. The president — or more rightly Karl Rove — is bound and determined not to let that happen again. But the damage has been done, and no amount of butch-assurance talk and aircraft carrier swagger can bring it back without it coming across as if he’s a teenager packing a sock in his jeans. His agenda for his second term; privatize Social Security, cut more taxes for the rich, find another country that’s minding it’s own business to invade, and decorate a few more felons with medals, is shot to hell. Even some of his Republican allies are distancing themselves as they stare down the barrel of the 2006 midterms.

As the first assessments of the damage from Hurricane Rita are trickling out, it looks like the cities of Houston and Galveston were spared the worst, although Beaumont and Port Arthur got hit. (My cousin and his family, I’m told, evacuated 140 miles inland from their home in Beaumont. My uncle said they don’t expect to find their home when they return, but that was last night’s report.) One of my friends in Texas reports that the town of Jasper, infamous for their racist past, was also hit — perhaps a little cosmic retribution? But no matter how good the state, local, and federal response is to Rita — even if they get everything exactly right — they’re still going to be cleaning up the mess from the first storm. The old cliché at the top of the post is true. So is the one from theatre: You don’t get two opening nights.