Thursday, March 2, 2006

It Only Makes It Worse

From the Washington Post:

A newly leaked video recording of high-level government deliberations the day before Hurricane Katrina hit shows disaster officials emphatically warning President Bush that the storm posed a catastrophic threat to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and a grim-faced Bush personally assuring state leaders that his administration was “fully prepared” to help.

The footage, taken of a videoconference of federal and state officials on Aug. 28, offered an unusually vivid glimpse of real-time decision making by an administration that has vigorously guarded its internal deliberations.

This isn’t news, actually. All it does is prove what has been said all along: the White House was warned in advance of the hurricane’s landfall that this was a catastrophic storm — it had already trashed parts of South Florida and there was a high risk of levee failure — and they were not only slow to respond (“hey, let’s go to San Diego”) but they have obfuscated and mislead about what they knew and when they knew it since the day after.

So the question becomes pretty simple: when President Bush went on ABC News on September 1 and said that no one predicted that the levees would break, was he lying or so thunderingly thick as to not figure out that when you get a Category 4 hurricane making a direct strike on a city that is twelve feet below sea level, chances are you’re going to have a levee break? That’s like saying after a five-inch rainfall you’re surprised the basement got wet. The report from the AP shows that the president didn’t ask any questions, which leads one to believe that he really didn’t comprehend what people were telling him, or if he did, he didn’t put two and two together and realize that this is the kind of thing we pay him $400,000 a year plus expenses to handle.

This isn’t the first time the White House has fallen back on the “Who Knew?” defense. The problem with that, as Tim Grieve points out, is that, as with the case of 9/11 and the Iraqi insurgency, just about everybody, including top aides and advisors at the White House and the Pentagon, knew and in the case of Hurricane Katrina, they had run simulations and drills that accurately predicted what would happen if a hurricane hit New Orleans. Denying it after the fact only makes them look dumb and unprepared — and this is the administration that won re-election on the pitch that they were the only people who could keep America safe.

What makes it worse now is that once the White House realized that they had truly screwed up, they first pointed fingers at everybody else but especially the Democrats in Louisiana (Haley Barbour, governor of Mississippi and former head of the RNC, got candy and a stripper), then made a huge photo op of the president in Jackson Square promising to do whatever it takes to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. He then basically forgot all about it — he had a Supreme Court vacancy to fill and ports to turn over to Dubai. Staffing out the worst natural disaster in American history is not leadership; it’s laziness, and looking at the clip of the president at the briefing makes one think he’s looking at the remote control wondering how to change the channel or jump to the next level and become King of the Monkey People.

The most telling thing about this whole scenario is that it proves without a shadow of a doubt that the only thing the White House seems concerned about is that they come out of any controversy looking good and covering up bad news by any means necessary is Job 1. This too is not news; that’s the goal of any White House — or, for that matter, any kid caught stealing a cookie. What is most maddening, however, is that while the kid usually learns the lesson pretty quick, this White House, with hundreds of years of history to prove it, hasn’t picked up on the simple fact that the best way to repair the damage is to get the truth out there as fast as possible with as few excuses as possible, admit to the mistakes, vow to correct them, and make things right. People are amazingly forgiving in the fact of abject honesty and sincere apologies. That’s probably because it happens so infrequently.