Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hurricane Katrina

Ebola, Politics, and Life’s Unfairness

Polls are telling us that Americans think their government is incompetent and that President Obama has lost their confidence. That’s the upshot of the new Politico poll that shows Obama is now regarded as a worse manager than George W. Bush, whose administration was widely derided as a mess by most people in its last years. That this trend has been exacerbated by the Ebola crisis is unquestioned. And that has some liberals crying foul. But all this means is that Democrats are learning something that was brought home to Republicans after Hurricane Katrina: life is unfair.

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Polls are telling us that Americans think their government is incompetent and that President Obama has lost their confidence. That’s the upshot of the new Politico poll that shows Obama is now regarded as a worse manager than George W. Bush, whose administration was widely derided as a mess by most people in its last years. That this trend has been exacerbated by the Ebola crisis is unquestioned. And that has some liberals crying foul. But all this means is that Democrats are learning something that was brought home to Republicans after Hurricane Katrina: life is unfair.

The embrace of the Ebola story by the mainstream media and especially the cable news networks is infuriating many on the left. As Eric Boehlert whined on Media Matters’ website on Friday, by going whole hog on Ebola and thus heightening the fear many Americans understandably fear about it, “the press is doing the GOP’s Ebola bidding.” Boehlert speaks for many liberals when he complained that by stoking fear rather than concentrating on educating us about a disease that, at worst, only few Americans will probably contract, the media is strengthening the critique of the Obama administration’s handling of the crisis. Along with the worries about the rise of ISIS terrorists in the Middle East, the federal government’s initial fumbling and sometimes mistaken response to the virus has reinforced the notion that President Obama isn’t capable of protecting the American people.

If this strikes Democrats as unfair, they are not entirely wrong. While the emergence of ISIS can be blamed in no small measure on a president who pulled U.S. troops out of Iraq and refused to intervene in Syria without worrying about the consequences, no reasonable person should think that his decisions could be linked to the spread of a disease in West Africa. Nor can the errors of the Center for Disease Control or those made by the Dallas hospital that treated the first Ebola victim in the U.S. be seriously argued as having flowed from President Obama’s desk.

But these failures do fit in with a narrative that has been building throughout the president’s second term in which government has been associated more with scandals (the VA, the IRS, spying on the press, Benghazi) and incompetence (the ObamaCare rollout) than anything else. So it is hardly surprising that many view the administration’s halting response to Ebola as merely confirming an existing diagnosis that Obama hasn’t the capacity or the will to govern effectively or, more importantly, carrying out government’s first obligation: protect the people.

Much like the way the government’s failures during Hurricane Katrina fed an existing Democratic narrative about Bush’s incompetence and the mess in Iraq, so, too, does the news about Ebola bolster Republican carping about Obama. Bush was no more responsible for bad weather in the Gulf of Mexico, the collapse of the levees, and the dereliction of duty on the part of local first responders in New Orleans than Obama is for the fool who told a nurse infected with Ebola to get on a plane to Cleveland.

Yet just as presidents are allowed to take credit for actions undertaken by the government to which their contribution has been minimal, so, too, must they take the blame for failures in which their role was equally small. All of which reminds us that sometimes life isn’t fair. People are often wrongly put down as failures because of circumstances they didn’t create. But when you are president of the United States, you have to take the good with the bad.

But if that was true for Bush, who was not only wrongly blamed for the devastation in New Orleans but also maliciously branded as a racist for the initial failures of first responders, it is even more so for Obama. It was he, after all, who ran for president not so much as a problem fixer but as a would-be messiah of hope and change who would turn back the oceans as well as sweep Washington clean. It was Obama who championed the idea that we must give more power to government so it could both help and protect us. So when government is seen to fail to the point where the president is now forced to appoint a veteran political spin master to be the new “czar” to manage its response to Ebola, he and his fans are in no position to complain about the public’s unrealistic expectations or its willingness to blame the administration for a climate of fear that arose from its failure to take steps that might restore confidence.

But there is more going on here than poetic justice. In and of itself Ebola isn’t a good reason to vote for the Republicans in 2014 any more than a hurricane was to vote for Democrats in 2006. But politics is about perceptions, not fairness. Americans deserve a government they can trust. If President Obama has lost it, he can curse the fates or blame the press but the person he should be holding responsible for this breakdown of trust is the one staring back at him in the mirror.

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Obama’s Katrina? It’s Actually Worse

For once, I have to agree with the White House. They’re right to deny that the debacle along the border with Mexico is President Obama’s Hurricane Katrina moment. It’s actually much worse.

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For once, I have to agree with the White House. They’re right to deny that the debacle along the border with Mexico is President Obama’s Hurricane Katrina moment. It’s actually much worse.

White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz said it wasn’t fair to compare the debacle along the border with Mexico to Hurricane Katrina. She’s right about that. The Katrina analogy has been mooted by a number of conservative writers but got some extra juice this week when Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose Texas district is situated along the border where locals have been overwhelmed by the surge of illegal immigration, used the K word when discussing President Obama’s reaction to the problem. Obama’s decision to avoid the border this week even though he was already scheduled to go to Texas for a political fundraiser was widely compared to the awful optics that ensued when President Bush was photographed flying over New Orleans after it was devastated by the storm.

Bush had good reasons for not parachuting into an area where first responders and reinforcements were already overwhelmed by the disaster. His presence on the ground would have done nothing to help anyone. Nor is it clear that Obama going to the border would do a thing to fix the crisis there. Yet both presidents suffered for those decisions because their physical distance from events was interpreted by the public as symbolic of their indifference to problems the federal government seemed unable to fix.

But contrary to the White House interpretation of events, the injustice here is not to Obama but to Bush. After all, despite some of the more extreme criticisms aimed at the 43rd president, nobody really believed Bush was capable of causing bad weather or had any impact on whether the levees were strong enough to prevent floods. Katrina was a natural disaster and though the response to it was clearly inadequate, the failures were mostly the fault of the collapse of local and state authorities rather than federal bungling. The push to blame Bush for it was largely the result of media distortions in which the perception of racism overwhelmed the facts.

Though real, the suffering along the border isn’t quite on the scale of the destruction of a major American city, but it must also be pointed out that this isn’t a natural disaster. While we can debate about what the best response to it now would be, attempts to deny that the massive increase in the influx of illegals is largely due to the president’s statements about allowing children to stay are unpersuasive. Bush didn’t make the weather but, like it or not, Obama did encourage the people of Central America to believe that all they had to do to attain residency in the U.S. was to make it across the border. Even worse, his response to the crisis has seemed to center on attempts to blame it on Republican unwillingness to adopt immigration reform rather than on an effort to defend the border and to ensure that the influx of illegals are swiftly sent home.

But the problem here isn’t merely one of perception. Nor is it strictly speaking a matter of fixing an immigration system badly in need of repair.

Even if House Republicans had embraced the bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill passed by the Senate last year, the situation along the border might be just as bad. The legislation did call for a massive increase in spending on border security. But even though I think the bill was worthy of support, it’s hard to argue with conservatives who point out that Obama has shown little interest in policing the border while simultaneously making it clear that he was willing to allow illegals to stay in the country.

Moreover, the push from the United Nations, welcomed by some liberals, to treat illegals from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as “refugees” rather than mere illegal aliens shows the danger that stems from Obama’s attitudes. The violence in these countries is nothing new. Those who came here did so primarily for understandable economic reasons. While Republicans need to consider administration calls for granting the government $3.7 billion in emergency funds to deal with the crisis, the real problem is an administration that has acted to bypass Congress and refused to enforce immigration laws that it doesn’t like.

Will Obama be hurt as much by the border fiasco as Bush was by the hurricane? No. Though the president has damaged his standing with the public—including many who agree with him on immigration reform—by the indifferent response to the crisis, the mainstream media continues to have his back even as his second term heads inevitably toward lame duck status. There will be no press pile-on about Obama hobnobbing with Democratic donors who paid $10,000 to nosh on barbecue in the presidential presence the way Bush was crucified for his Katrina fly-by.

But what we are witnessing is a humanitarian disaster that was created by a thoughtless administration that has trashed the rule of law on immigration and found itself surprised by a crisis of its own making. As bad as Bush’s hurricane optics were, history will judge Obama’s behavior far more harshly.

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Walter Russell Mead’s Shallow and Misleading Attack on the Bush Legacy

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.

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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 University of Texas’s Will Inboden does a fine job responding to Mead on foreign policy, so I’ll focus on what Mead calls the “multiple policy failures of the Bush years,” which include “two long unfinished wars, a botched hurricane, no significant domestic reform, frozen immobility on immigration, deficits out of control, the middle class in deepening trouble, the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression.”

There’s much to unravel in this litany, starting with Mead’s claim that the Bush deficits were “out of control.” Wrong. The budget deficit during President Bush’s tenure averaged 2 percent, which is well below the 50-year average of 3 percent.

But Bush inherited a surplus, critics will respond. To which the answer is: Yes, but by January 2001, when Bush was inaugurated, the budget surpluses were evaporating as the economy skidded toward recession (it officially began in March 2001). Combined with the devastating economic effects of 9/11, when we lost around 1 million jobs in a little over 90 days, the surplus went into deficit.

And here’s what else Mead fails to mention: In the aftermath of the March 2001 recession, America experienced six years of uninterrupted economic growth and a record 52 straight months of job creation that produced more than 8 million new jobs. During the Bush presidency, the unemployment rate averaged 5.3 percent. We saw labor-productivity gains that exceeded the averages of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Real after-tax income per capita increased by more than 11 percent. And from 2000 to 2007, real GDP grew by more than 17 percent, a gain of nearly $2.1 trillion.

Keith Hennessey, in a data-heavy analysis that contrasts well with Mead’s, concludes:

George W. Bush, a wartime President, had a smaller federal government and lower taxes relative to the economy than each of his three predecessors, historically small deficits, no tax increases, and 5.3% average unemployment. He vetoed a farm bill and two health bills for spending too much. He proposed structural and incremental reforms to Social Security and Medicare that set up the current entitlement reform debate.

Mr. Mead mentions none of this, perhaps because they pose inconvenient facts to his thesis. In any event, it’s hardly a record of failure.

Ah, you might say, but what about the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, which happened during Bush’s watch?

The reasons for the 2008 financial crisis were quite complicated, but surely much of the blame–and probably a majority of the blame–rests with those (Democrats) who blocked reforms that would have mitigated the effects of the housing crisis, which led to the broader financial crisis. As Stuart Taylor, hardly a loyal Bush supporter, put it in 2008:

The pretense of many Democrats that this crisis is altogether a Republican creation is simplistic and dangerous. It is simplistic because Democrats have been a big part of the problem, in part by supporting governmental distortions of the marketplace through mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose reckless lending practices necessitated a $200 billion government rescue [in September 2008]. … Fannie and Freddie appear to have played a major role in causing the current crisis, in part because their quasi-governmental status violated basic principles of a healthy free enterprise system by allowing them to privatize profit while socializing risk.

For the record, the Bush administration warned as early as April 2001 that Fannie and Freddie were too large and overleveraged and that their failure “could cause strong repercussions in financial markets, affecting federally insured entities and economic activity” well beyond housing. Bush’s plan would have subjected Fannie and Freddie to the kinds of federal regulation that banks, credit unions, and savings and loans have to comply with. In addition, Republican Richard Shelby, then chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, pushed for comprehensive GSE (government-sponsored enterprises) reform in 2005. These efforts at reforming Fannie and Freddie were blocked by Democrats such as Christopher Dodd and Representative Barney Frank, along with the then-junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who backed Dodd’s threat of a filibuster. It’s also important to point out that the steps Bush took to stabilize the financial system–which were made under enormous pressure and increasing turmoil–basically worked, sparing us from even worse consequences.

Now let’s turn to Mead’s claim that Bush achieved no significant domestic reform. Nonsense. The No Child Left Behind Act was among the most important reforms to education in decades. Six years after NCLB became law, 4th-grade students achieved their highest reading and math scores on record, and 8th-grade students achieved their highest math scores on record. African-American and Hispanic students posted all-time highs in reading and math, and the achievement gap has narrowed.

Then there’s the Medicare prescription drug plan, which allows private drug plans to compete against each other to provide coverage for beneficiaries. Because competition was injected into the system, the average premiums in 2008 were 40 percent lower than the original estimates. Overall, the projected spend­ing for the program between 2004 and 2013 is 37 percent lower than orig­inally expected–a reduction of about $240 billion. During the Bush years free-market principles were also extended to the Medicare Advantage program and Health Savings Accounts. This approach to health care issues, it’s worth noting, is the animating feature behind the bold Medicare reform plan put forward by Representative Paul Ryan.

On “a botched hurricane:” Mead makes no mention of the staggering incompetence of then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco, neither of whom ordered a mandatory evacuation in time while the latter (Blanco) actually blocked federal efforts to aid New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. Despite this, others have pointed out that we witnessed one of the largest rescue operations in history in which roughly a quarter of a million residents were moved out of a flooded city within a week, which is actually a fairly impressive achievement. But none of this is supposed to matter.

I’m not sure what “frozen immobility” on immigration reform is supposed to mean. President Bush was a strong, vocal champion of immigration reform, which encountered congressional opposition and never became law. But the reform was wise and necessary, and the power of it endures. For example, the core of Bush’s immigration reform (with some amendments) is being resurrected by, among others, Senator Marco Rubio. I suspect that what we’ll find is that Bush was ahead of his time on the matter of immigration.

I’ll now take up the issue of Iraq, which is supposedly an indelible mark against America’s 43rd president. It’s quite true that serious mistakes were made leading up to the war and in the aftermath of major combat operations, and I’ve written about them. So, in fact, has President Bush. But a more sophisticated summary than Mead’s, about the effects of the surge and the state of things in Iraq after the Bush presidency, can be found in this column by Charles Krauthammer:

when [Obama] became president in January 2009, he was handed a war that was won. The surge had succeeded. Al-Qaeda in Iraq had been routed, driven to humiliating defeat by an Anbar Awakening of Sunnis fighting side-by-side with the infidel Americans. Even more remarkably, the Shiite militias had been taken down, with U.S. backing, by the forces of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They crushed the Sadr militias from Basra to Sadr City.

Al-Qaeda decimated. A Shiite prime minister taking a decisively nationalist line. Iraqi Sunnis ready to integrate into a new national government. U.S. casualties at their lowest ebb in the entire war. Elections approaching. Obama was left with but a single task: Negotiate a new status-of-forces agreement (SOFA) to reinforce these gains and create a strategic partnership with the Arab world’s only democracy.

He blew it.

I wonder if Walter Russell Mead understands the irony of his analysis. He’s encouraging Republicans to seriously grapple with the Bush era, which is entirely reasonable. But he does so in a way that is itself deeply unserious. Recapitulating Chris Matthews’s talking point about the Bush presidency doesn’t add to our understanding of anything; it merely gives wings to silly caricatures.

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Why Isn’t Sandy Obama’s Katrina?

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. 

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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. 

After several days of dominating the news cycle, the nation moved on to the election, and now, to the unfolding scandal involving CIA Director David Petraeus. For those left in the worst of Sandy’s wake, no matter what CNN may be covering, few have had the ability to move on. The local New York City-centric blog Gothamist describes the situation in The Rockaways area of Queens:

“The city hasn’t reached out to us at all,” said Matt Calender, a Rockaway resident who helps direct a bustling relief effort from a house on Beach 96th Street. “The Red Cross gave us 500 blankets the other day. FEMA talked to us. But that’s it. We station volunteers here, but we also send people downtown, where there is immense need. If people come here we can actually give them something to do.”

After Katrina, President George W. Bush was lambasted for FEMA’s response to the storm. Those aware of the situation in Far Rockaway and other hard-hit areas of New York know that the situation isn’t much different than New Orleans post-Katrina. New York City Councilman James Sanders, who represents the Rockaways, gave a chilling interview to a Boston NPR affiliate, stating:

“FEMA did not arrive in a timely fashion, nor did the Red Cross,” Richards said. “If it wasn’t for everyday citizens coming out and giving us a hand, the Rockaways would be in a shape that is unfathomable.”

Richards said that FEMA didn’t arrive until last Thursday, and he says the agency initially set up in an area that was inaccessible to poorer residents.

“Every 24 hours that goes by, we get into a more desperate situation so FEMA has to respond quicker. I know we have a billion things to do but in a low-income area with 30 percent of the people on some sort of income subsidy we need them to move fast and move now,” Richards said.

FEMA was unavailable for comment.

Electricity is starting to return to the Rockaways, but many homes still lack heat and hot water. Gasoline is still in short supply.

“We’re running into a desperate situation, especially as winter starts to greet us,” Richards said. “[Our residents] are still sleeping in the cold – many of our children, our elderly! And not only is it cold, but they’re sleeping in wet apartments.”

Richards says the situation in public housing has also been dire. He said a 77-year-old man died on Saturday, because he fell down an unlit staircase. He is also concerned that many crimes may have gone unreported, because communication has been spotty with the New York City Housing Authority.

“No one will know how many rapes have happened in the Rockaways, how many burglaries, how many murders. No one will have accurate information on these things until months pass by after this post-Sandy era disappears,” Richards said.

Rabbi Shay Schachter, assistant rabbi at the Rockaways’ “White Shul” told me about the dire straits his community was in in the first nine days after the storm struck. FEMA only arrived the following Tuesday after the storm and initially had to rely on local relief groups like the Long Island JCC for information. Rabbi Schachter had been running groups of local students and volunteers into three 17-story buildings in his community, filled largely with poor and elderly residents. He told me that when they first arrived five days after the storm bringing food and water to residents “[they] looked at us like they haven’t seen food in five years.” Schachter was asked by many residents about how they could receive medical attention, medication and access to dialysis machines while trapped in their highrise apartments without working elevators. Before FEMA took over the building’s care a full ten days after the storm hit, one FEMA official told Schachter that he was certain they would find dead bodies inside, as elderly residents inside had no heat, food, or medical care. 

After the storm, before the election, the only public discussion regarding FEMA centered around Mitt Romney’s statements during a GOP primary debate, which were misinterpreted and misrepresented to suggest he wanted to abolish FEMA. Romney came under fire for the remarks and unfortunately, as Jonathan pointed out the day before the election, little political attention has been paid to FEMA’s undeniably slow response to Sandy. The logic of Romney’s suggestion that FEMA cannot (and has not in the past) promptly offer relief to victims of natural and man-made disasters in the U.S. has yet to be discussed in the media or by government officials. More than two weeks after the storm, the situation is growing increasingly dire for residents of the Rockaways as temperatures plummet.

With the media’s silence and the public’s amnesia over the impact of the hurricane, President Obama has once again received a free pass on yet another issue of national importance. The media’s outcry over the devastation after Katrina led to a massive influx of aid in the form of governmental agency involvement, subsidies, and private charitable organizations’ assistance. Without that outcry, the victims of Sandy should be wondering what kind of attention they would be receiving if the president’s party began with an R, not a D. 

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Does Obama’s FEMA Deserve Applause?

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.”

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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.”

The push back against the narrative of Obama’s brilliant emergency response may be coming too late to alter the public’s view of events. But if it is coming late it is because, unlike the Democrats in 2005 during Katrina, Republicans have been reluctant to inject politics into a natural disaster. But if the plight of the people of New Orleans was all the fault of George W. Bush — even though most of the problems there were more the result of the complete collapse of state and local authority and the abandonment of their posts by first responders, then it is not inappropriate to ask why Obama gets a pass as residents of New York and New Jersey cope with a crisis that is far from under control.

No president deserves to be blamed for bad weather. But the ability of Obama to avoid responsibility for what remains a terrible mess can be directly attributed to his cheerleaders in the news media.

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GOP Should Blame the Media, Not Sandy

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.

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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.

Sandy’s impact was more than just a diversion from political business as usual. It was a chance for many in the mainstream media to trot out comparisons between the federal response to Sandy to that of the Bush administration to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. While there’s no question that the government was better prepared and was able to do what it could more quickly this time, the assumption that Bush deserved to be blamed for what happened in New Orleans while Obama deserves credit for the situation in New Jersey and New York is a partisan distortion. The bulk of the problems in New Orleans were the result of the abject failure of state and city first responders and officials. Yet the pictures of the devastation and the sufferers are still linked to the general perception of Bush’s incompetence. By contrast, the narrative in which Obama got to be the hero of Sandy doesn’t seem to be affected by the fact that many Americans are still without power or shelter a week after the storm.

Of course, blaming Obama for what’s happening in New Jersey and New York wouldn’t be any more fair than blaming Bush for the collapse of the levees in New Orleans or the fact that most of the police and firemen in that city fled rather than doing their duty. There are some things that really are beyond the scope of any president to control, and the weather is one of them. That’s true even for a president who promised that he could turn back the oceans, as Obama famously did when he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. But anyone who thinks the liberal media wouldn’t be blaming a GOP president for the plight of Sandy’s victims doesn’t understand much about American politics.

The point here is not just that the media gave Obama a boost last week, but to highlight the fact that throughout this campaign that is what they have done at virtually every point. Just as most of the mainstream media failed to follow up on the scandalous failure that led to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, and then turned a blind eye to the administration’s politically motivated deceptions about it, there was never much chance that they wouldn’t use Sandy to help Obama.

Beating Obama has always meant overcoming the handicap of media bias as well as the inclination of many Americans not to unseat the first African-American president. If Romney falls short tomorrow, it will not be just the fault of a hurricane, but will also be due to the lack of a level playing field for the candidates on virtually any issue.

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Exploiting Hurricane Will Hurt Dems

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.

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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.

Though President Bush’s appointees did a terrible job in 2005, it is long past time for liberal organs to stop trying to paint the failure of the levees in New Orleans as a Republican problem or a racist plot. It is equally absurd for the Times to paint battles over the FEMA budget in apocalyptic terms. To paint every dollar expended by the agency as somehow the difference between life and death is mere melodrama, since we know that the federal office is just as capable of inefficiency as it is incompetence. Nor was it improper for Republicans who are mindful of the way President Obama has ballooned the federal deficit in a way that makes Bush’s profligacy look like prudence to ask that any overspending by FEMA (which they were prepared to approve) be paid for by cuts in less essential programs that are liberal sacred cows.

Nevertheless, there’s little doubt that the bad timing of the storm and the attempts by liberals to wave the bloody shirt of Katrina won’t help Mitt Romney’s cause. It should also be specified that if federal authorities are seen to be doing their jobs in an appropriate manner during any relief operations in the Gulf it will be a boost for President Obama, who will be viewed as doing his job effectively.

However, the president needs to be careful about playing commander-in-chief in ways that are tangential or even a distraction from the real business of helping people. As President Bush noted in his memoirs, he waited to fly into New Orleans after the hurricane because he knew that a presidential visit with all of the attendant security and logistical complications that it would cause was the last thing the devastated area needed. The same standard would apply to any superfluous Obama fly-in to the storm areas this week. Once the crisis is over, a presidential visit is appropriate as a gesture of solidarity with those affected. But if President Obama seeks to use an unnecessary piece of stagecraft in the upcoming days merely to upstage the GOP convention or Mitt Romney’s acceptance of his nomination, it won’t do him or his party any good.

Americans are smart enough to know the difference between proper supervision of a crisis and political photo-ops. If the president opts for the latter, his fans at the Times and elsewhere, who are now barely containing their mirth at the GOP’s predicament, will be laughing out of the other sides of their mouths.

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Isaac-Katrina Analogies Are Gift to Dems

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.

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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.

Bush never really recovered from the widespread impression that his appointees were not on top of the crisis and the publicized delays in getting federal help to the stricken city. The collapse of local authority, the way first responders fled and the abdication of responsibility by both the city and state of Louisiana had far more to do with the crisis than anything the federal government did. But it was Bush who got the lion’s share of the blame. The plight of the poor refugees in the Superdome wasn’t merely put on his shoulders but falsely asserted as proof of administration racism.

Should President Obama decide to arrive on the scene of any flooding or damage this week, it will not merely upstage the GOP infomercial. It will also be a not-so-subtle reinforcement of his recurring campaign theme in which he blames everything that’s wrong with the country on his predecessor.

Hurricane Isaac won’t fix the country’s economy or lower unemployment, which are the real obstacles to the president’s re-election. But the timing and the path of the storm may provide the Democrats with an unexpected bonus of campaign fodder that could undermine any GOP hopes for a post-convention bounce. And there’s absolutely nothing the Republicans can do about it except pray that the hurricane proves to be a minor annoyance to the Gulf rather than a full-scale disaster. Residents of the coastal region, both Democrats and Republicans, will be praying along with them.

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