Walter Russell Mead has written a post arguing that the Bush administration was a “first class political disaster” for the Republican Party. The Bush presidency was “not a success,” according to Mead, and Republicans need to deal with the failures, “real and perceived,” and do so “openly and honestly.”
“Fluency in discussing the disasters of the Bush years is going to be a job requirement for Republican candidates and mandarins for some time to come,” Mead informs us. But having declared the vital role fluency should play in public debate, Mr. Mead proceeds to demonstrate his own ignorance on a range of matters.
The pictures from New Orleans after Katrina were iconic. Stories breathlessly filed from the Superdome warned of rampant crimes, inadequate access to basic sanitation, even babies getting raped (which was later proven to be a rumor). CNN’s Anderson Cooper berated Senator Mary Landrieu on air about the government’s response to the storm. Spike Lee made an entire documentary about the impact the hurricane had on the city and its residents. Famously, during a telethon for Katrina’s victims, rapper Kanye West told viewers, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
The week before the election, Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast, bringing unprecedented destruction to the seaside communities in the tri-state area. Parts of New York City went dark, as sections of the city were completely submerged in flood waters for the first time in modern history. Seaside towns across the Jersey Shore lost their famous boardwalks in an instant, and in Seaside Heights, parts of a roller coaster ended up sucked into the ocean.
As I wrote earlier today, there is little doubt that part of the reason why President Obama got a bounce of some sort from Hurricane Sandy is the perception that his administration did a much better job dealing with the emergency than President Bush did during Hurricane Katrina. This was largely the result of a complacent media that was content to portray the president as the hero of the occasion after his fly through New Jersey and the seal of approval he got from Governor Chris Christie. But Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, someone who knows a thing or two about what happens in a crisis, isn’t buying it.
Giuliani is frustrated not so much by the political spin of this story as by the spectacle of the citizens of his beloved New York City being left in need while the rest of the country “moves on” from the hurricane. As far as Giuliani is concerned, the actions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) don’t deserve the laurels they have received from the media and for which the president is given credit. As Politico reports:
“The response since the time the president got all this praise and credit and press ops has been abysmal,” Giuliani said on Fox News Channel’s “America’s Newsroom.” “FEMA is as much a failure now as at the time of Katrina.”
Giuliani, a 2008 presidential candidate, said that he did not “understand” why New York was facing water, generators and gas shortages.
“It’s quite obvious they didn’t pre-plan for water, they didn’t pre-plan for the generators, they didn’t pre-plan for the gasoline,” he said.
He bashed Obama for losing “focus” on the subject.
“The president getting all this credit so early, maybe the first day or two he was paying attention, but the minute he got his credit, the minute he got his pat on his back, we had the same situation as we had in Benghazi,” Giuliani said. “He loses focus. He goes back to being campaigner-in-chief rather than commander-in-chief.”
A week ago, as Hurricane Sandy headed up the East Coast, Mitt Romney looked to be consolidating his recent gains in the polls. A week later, with many still suffering from the impact of the storm, Romney’s momentum has ebbed and Democratic optimism is off the charts. Assuming that the Democrats are right and Romney loses, was this all the fault of the storm in which President Obama got to play commander-in-chief and take the credit for what has been depicted in the press as an effective federal response to the crisis?
The answer here is: not really. The storm didn’t hurt the president and certainly didn’t help Romney, as it took the focus off politics for a crucial few days (much as the hurricane that threatened parts of the country during the Republican National Convention at the end of August undermined the GOP’s hopes for pulling off a successful infomercial). But the reason it played so well for the president is directly related to the inherent advantages that have always made Romney’s effort an uphill climb: incumbency and a mainstream media in the tank for Obama and determined to portray him as successful even when the facts don’t justify the cheerleading. Though many conservatives have spent this year assuming the president was toast, this latest setback for Republicans is yet another reminder of how out of touch they were with political reality. The election is by no means the foregone conclusion that many liberals are claiming this morning; unless the Democrat turnout matches that of 2008, the pollsters and pundits predicting an Obama victory will look very foolish on Wednesday morning. But the impact of the hurricane on the race demonstrates that beating Obama required a little luck as well as a good candidate and a competent campaign.
Yesterday I wrote that the inevitable analogies that will be drawn by the liberal media between Hurricanes Isaac and Katrina are a gift to the Democrats. Just how much the public will make of these specious comparisons has yet to be determined, but one must give those members of President Obama’s cheerleading squad who write the editorials at the New York Times credit for trying. The paper’s lead editorial today was exactly along the lines that I predicted. It pompously claimed the storm “is a powerful reminder both of Republican incompetence in handling Hurricane Katrina seven years ago” and then piled on to the mythology behind that clause by also asserting that the storm also spotlights “the party’s no-less-disastrous plans to further cut emergency-related spending.”
Suffice it to say that seven years later attempts to blame the Katrina disaster solely on President Bush and his party is absurd, since we now know that most of the problems stemmed from the incompetence, if not the moral turpitude, displayed by local and state authorities. The argument that GOP demands that other savings offset more FEMA expenditures is somehow an invitation to catastrophe is just as dishonest. But as much as liberals are chortling at the Republicans’ bad luck with the weather, they need to be careful not to overplay their hand. While the GOP needs to be aware that a potential storm disaster is more important than their gathering, President Obama must be mindful that any actions of his own this week that can be interpreted as trying to make political hay out of a tragedy will backfire.
The danger posed by Hurricane Isaac to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico may soon overtake the Republican National Convention as the top story of the week. The troubles of the GOP are rightly overshadowed by the potential for loss of life and property in the states bordering the Gulf. But while Republicans must sit back and watch and pray along with the rest of the country that the disaster is not as great as some fear, they will also be watching for liberal attempt to rehash the aftermath of the last big hurricane to pound New Orleans. While some in the party are grousing about the way the choice of a Florida city during the season of tropical storms has played havoc with the convention schedule, what they really ought to be worried about is the way the media will use the hurricane to rehearse the alleged sins of George W. Bush during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Though the post-invasion mess in Iraq is still thought of as the George W. Bush administration’s worst problem, the true turning point during his second term was what happened after the levees failed in New Orleans. Bush is staying away from Tampa, allowing Mitt Romney his week of glory without any reminders of his unpopular Republican predecessor. But courtesy of Isaac, the networks and cable TV channels are going to be able to put the 43rd president back in the public eye. More than the Democrats’ unseemly attempts at political guerrilla warfare in Tampa, any media hyping of the Isaac-Katrina analogy will be both a distraction from the GOP convention narrative and a way to bludgeon the Republicans by digging up the canards hurled at Bush back in 2005.