Philip is right when he writes that “On Katrina, for instance, while many conservatives agree that it was mishandled by Bush (me included), a lot of others feel that Bush was unfairly blamed for the incompetence of local leadership. McCain is not going to win the election by just picking issue after issue on which he can flog President Bush. What McCain needs to do, Sarkozy style, is offer a broad reform agenda, that is both conservative but also representative of change and different from Bush.”
That said, it bespeaks a major problem among conservatives, a major and willful blindness, obstinacy, refusal to consider empirical evidence, and bias, that so many conservative absolutely refuse to acknowledge that Bush and his whole team screwed up massively both right after Katrina and in the months and months afterwards as well. In other words, they react tot he fact that “Bush was unfairly blamed for the incompetence of local leadership” by refusing to acknowledge that there was plenty of blame to go around, and that just because local leadership failed did not mean that ONLY local leadership failed, but that the federal response was also not just incompetent but actually in many ways counterproductive, even deadly. I will go farther and say that refusal to acknowledge that is a case of willful ignorance, of sheer butt-headedness, utterly unsupported by facts or logic or information.
The fact is that in instance after instance, when both private relief efforts (Wal-mart, for instance) and public officials (state and federal Fish & Wildlife Service, for example) were underway, FEMA officials again and again turned them away, denied them access, etc. The fact is that when Bobby Jindal was moving heaven and earth to secure private relief from all over the country, he had to ignore, contradict, or cut through massive federal red tape that literally tried to stop him. The fact is that Bush himself was so oblivious to the depth of the problems that even three days after the event, he still had to be shown video while flying on Air Force One before he started to “get it,” — and that, four days after the event, he had the utter cluelessness to tell FEMA Director that he was doing a “heckuva job.”
That’s why the following paragraph in McCain’s speech was so utterly on target: One of the worst aspects of Katrina, as a measure of emergency-response by government, is that Americans are renowned for their ingenuity and resourcefulness in a tough spot. Ask the military historians, and they’ll tell you that the ability of American men and women in war to react quickly to crisis, to think fast and solve any problem of logistics, has been one of our greatest assets. And yet with the exception of our Coast Guard, our National Guard, reservists, and others, these qualities were hard to find in the response of federal and state agencies to an enormous danger that, as a congressional report put it, was “not only predictable, it was predicted.” There were all those school busses lined up in a parking lot, and no one in authority with the sense to use them. Wal-Mart had the ice, water, and generators readyÂ … Federal Express the planesÂ … and other companies and groups stood ready to help. But they were leaderless. And some of the most inspiring work was done by churches and charities and volunteers, working around FEMA instead of with it.
Indeed, read as a whole, McCain’s speech was eloquent, measured, on target, constructive, thoughtful, and wise. He was similarly on target in his visits in the Black Belt in Alabama (an area I wrote about a number of times while at the Mobile Register), and in his high praise for Alabama Gov. Bob Riley.
I bow to no man in my criticism of some of McCain’s bullheadedness and hotheadedness. But his tour of “forgotten places” (or whatever his campaign called it) has been a triumph, and I only wish it had come when more attention could be focused on it rather than having so much national attention focused on the Demo Pennsylvania primary and aftermath.