Nope…No finger-pointing here

Why, Oh Why?

Lots of clever questions like

Why did Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and FEMA head Michael Brown appear on television repeatedly patting themselves on the back for the federal government’s effort, when it was so clear to the rest of the world that people were suffering and dying in the streets?

While there certainly appear to be some serious problems at all levels including FEMA, the reason that “people were suffering and dying in the streets” was, well, they’d been hit by a hurricane. Questions are important. Determining the causes of problems is vital to improving for the next time. But to pretend that since people were still suffering meant that the “federal government’s effort” is to blame is pretty silly.

Mr. President, why did you think it was so important to deliver a political speech comparing Iraq to WWII the day after the hurricane?

Was he supposed to be in New Orleans with a finger in the levee? The hurricane was (literally) a disaster, but the world didn’t stop.

Anybody seen Dick Cheney?

I’m not sure what this means. It’s all he had to say about the vice president. I guess he thinks it speaks for itself.

Dear Federal Officials, what kind of message do you think your response to the hurricane must have sent the terrorists, sitting at home watching CNN?

Well, one message might have been “even though the American military is ‘stretched to the limit’ they can still spare thousands of soldiers, hundreds of helicopters and planes, and dozens of ships…including an aircraft carrier.”

Local and state officials, you can’t escape scrutiny: Why didn’t you do a better job preparing for the process of evacuating people, given that this sort of disaster has been predicted for decades, and at least one previous study has shown that as many as a third of the residents of New Orleans would be reluctant to evacuate?

Here, finally, we have a winner. To be honest, I believe this to be THE question. But even those responsible for the issue and the only ones capable of answering the question are busy pointing fingers at the Feds.

Why do some in the media seem more intent on focusing on the looting of a criminal few than on the more pervasive acts of human kindness of a people enduring the monumental stress of hunger, thirst, separation from family members, loss of homes, and fatigue in the blistering 90 degree heat of Louisiana and Mississippi?

Some? And the answer is probably the same as the answer to question about why a tiny percentage of the population in Iraq gets all the coverage while the rest endure “monumental stress” and work to put the country back together after decades of destruction.

There’s plenty more where these came from. It’s hard to tell, but I get the feeling that the writer isn’t terribly impressed with the federal government’s response. But maybe I’m just over-sensitive.

UPDATE: Powerpundit points out this question in the column:

Why was Condoleezza Rice, the administration’s highest ranking black official, grinning and guffawing at the Broadway show “Spamalot” and shopping for expensive shoes at Salvatore Ferragamo on Fifth Avenue days after the hurricane ravaged the Gulf Coast and left tens of thousands of poor black folks hungry, desperate and dying?

And notes Hugh Hewitt’s response: The better question than “Why was Secretary Rice shopping?” is

“Wouldn’t we have been better off if Governor Blanco had been?”

He shoots. He scores.


  1. There are obviously no absolutes here. I hope they don’t create a policy forbidding shoe shopping within 7 days of a natural disaster. I agree with you that many of the criticisms you criticize really do seem silly. Those can be found in any situation. But there are many things that seem fair to criticize, or at least question. And everyone should be held to account, mostly to learn for the future. I find it sad that some sources seem intent to blame the governor of Louisianna, and are using outright falsehoods about her response to do so. Some sources are specifying the source of this ‘info’ as the White House. This is being called the largest natural disaster in US history. How many days until the president started to act like it was? Now this is not an objective criticism that can be ‘proven’ to be right, but I feel that the president and his staff ought to have been a bit more deferential to the magnitude of the situation in the things they chose to say and do following the hurricane. it seems like it should have at least appeared to be the most important thing at the time. Much of the complaint I’ve heard is about the apparent delay in action. If the president can’t use his position to push to make things happen faster, who can? Wouldn’t it be good for him to be in Washington trying to get things moving (or at least look like he is)? And Barbara Bush maybe ought to think a bit more before she says things like: ‘And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this- this is working very well for them.’ I’ll give her a chance to point out that she had been misquoted or misunderstood, but I haven’t heard that yet.

  2. This is being called the largest natural disaster in US history. How many days until the president started to act like it was? Indeed. How many days was it until the LA governor or the NO mayor started to act like it was, for that matter? Sure, I wish Bush or FEMA or the Navy or someone had been a hell of lot more pro-active immediately. The biggest planning problem I see? Failure to plan for LA’s and NO’s failure to plan or act on the plans they had. Bush should have made sure the hurricane ‘appeared to be the most important thing at the time’? Fair enough. I’d also submit that the people in a position to do something should have done more than ‘appear’ that the hurricane was ‘the most important thing at the time’, which to my eyes watching as things unfolded certainly looked like the case. So many people are working so hard to be upset about the things the president and the administration said and did after the hurricane that they’re missing the problem. Huge disaster? Yep. But dumb games running around working overtime to blame that stupid chimp in the White House are just that–dumb games.

  3. I’d like to think that any government, given a wake-up call like 9/11 four years ago, can plan for a disaster. Shuffle this here, move that group there and come up with the mother of all organizations to respond to national emergencies. I’d call this the first real test– which was made easier because everyone in the whole world could see Katrina coming. The result: four days before any kind of government organization could get food, water and medicine to its people. God help us if the next disaster doesn’t come with a satellite image warning us, because then you’ll have alot more than tens of thousands to get aid to. I don’t care if you’re Red or Blue or Green, providing for the security and well-being of your citizens *IS* the very reason we have government. Perhaps local, state and federal emergency response organizations should contract Wal-Mart for delivering aid. But who for security?

  4. Natural disaster relief is state and local first, federal last. Attacks from enemies is federal first, state and local last. Why are so many people ignoring this?

  5. The people who are ignoring these FACTS are simply doing so because the FACTS don’t fit into the way that they believe government should operate. They only hear what they want to hear. I agree with John only in that I too think the local and state level response would have been much better supplied by Walmart.

  6. What I really can’t figure out is why no one else has wondered if ‘guffawing’ and ‘grinning’ didn’t go with ‘shuffling’? I mean, Jesus. I’m sure glad the left isn’t racist.

  7. Murdoc, I absolutely agree that there appear to be failures at every level. But your initial post seemed to pick only some of the criticisms – particularly those that seem absurd and were directed at the feds – and defend the administration from these silly attacks. This is the kind of disaster that only the feds are equipped to handle. I would have hoped for a better response all the way around. But I don’t know enough to knwo what would have helped. I’ll wait until there is time for a post game analysis. But it doesn’t look like we are prepared on a federal level for a serious disaster and this is AFTER the lessons of 9/11 have supposedly been learned. Charlie, I don’t understand what the heck you are trying to say. I mean, Jesus.

  8. MP: This is the kind of disaster that only the feds are equipped to handle. You mean, like, only the feds have buses to get the people out of the path of the storm? I guess it depends upon what sort of relief we’re talking about. Virtually all of the criticism I’ve seen has been along the lines of ‘the federal government couldn’t even get those poor people food or water…and this is AFTER the lessons of 9/11 have supposedly been learned’. (I’m paraphrasing.) The problem with this criticism isn’t that the Feds shouldn’t have given food and water to all those poor people…the problem is that all those poor people needed to be taken care of BEFORE the storm hit. As in, removed from what was absolutely guaranteed to be a total disaster zone. To blame the Feds (FEMA, the military, George Bush, or whoever) for not doing a good job picking up the pieces left laying around by the local and state government is irresponsible. I realize that my position makes it look like I’m defending FEMA. In fact, that’s not my position at all. I believe that the screw-ups at the federal level have been pretty significant, and Bush himself is not blameless, I think, even if only because he’s the head of the federal government. But the efforts to lay the scale of this disaster at the feet of federal agencies just plain ignores the responsibilities of the local and state governments. They had plans (or guidelines at least) and they didn’t follow them. Upon closer inspection, it appears that those plans were woefully inadequate anyway. If those 100,000 (or however many) people had been in Baton Rouge instead, do you think maybe FEMA would have been able to get more food and water to them more quickly? If those 5,000 or so drowned bodies had been camped in a big tent city 200 miles to the north, how many of them would be drowned bodies right now? I understand that it’s difficult (impossible) to get everyone 100% out. But there doesn’t even appear to have been an effort. I fail to see how that’s FEMA’s fault or George Bush’s fault. I’m all for sticking it to FEMA and Bush for the things they’ve done wrong. But for them to do what most critics seem to be expecting them to do would mean completely discounting any effort by local and state authorities, because it’s the actions (and lack of actions) at that level that put FEMA in a position where it needed to respond to all those stranded people in NOLA. As I said, federal aid comes AFTER the disaster when it’s a natural disaster. Especially one with some warning like this one. In an earthquake out of nowhere, I’d expect the feds to be responsible for more as the local and state agencies would be caught totally unawares. But this looks like a case of sitting around and waiting for the feds to make everything all right, and then complaining when they aren’t going about it quickly enough.

  9. I absolutely agree with you that a better evacuation would have been preferred. Why so many didn’t is a mystery. If people won’t listen when the mayor or governor or president tell them to AND they have a means, I have less sympathy for them. The means to do so seems to be one of the things in question here. Those buses seem like they would have worked. It seems to come down to leadership, undoubtedly at various levels. (Rehash) Your post seemed to mostly use quotes that were out of line. There are at least a few people calling this disaster God’s retribution for NOs sins. If you had mentioned and refuted some of the other nutty statements like that one your post might not have seemed to be just a defense of the administration and the feds. I will note that FEMAs web site says this about their job: ‘Every year, disasters put millions of Americans in danger and destroy billions of dollars worth of property. But every year, all year, FEMA is on the job -helping communities reduce their risk, helping emergency officials prepare for any hazard or helping people get back on their feet after their lives are disrupted by a disaster. FEMA, a federal agency since 1979, became part of the new Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003. FEMA’s mission within the new department is to lead the effort to prepare the nation for all potential disasters and to manage the federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident -whether natural or man-made.’ Note the bits about leading, preparation, all potential and any national incident. I give people a lot of latitude for not acting ‘perfectly’, especially with the benefit of hindsight. The voters will decide what they think of the response by many elected officials. I want to see how things look later, but I don’t see that the appointed and hired leadership of FEMA have created an agency that is capable of handling its mission very well.

  10. MP: 1. I was critiquing a particular WaPo story and the questions within it. None of them were about God’s retribution. Since I called this particular column into question does not obligate me to discuss ALL crazy questions EVERYWHERE, just as talking about this hurricane does not obligate me talk about ALL hurricanes EVERYWHERE or invading Iraq to change a bad regime does not obligate the United States to change ALL bad regimes EVERYWHERE. I also have not discussed global warming or heights of levee walls or theories that Cheney’s oil buddies are benefiting greatly from all this. I absolutely meant my post to be a ‘defense of the administration and the feds’. Not a defense against criticism for shortcomings. A defense against blatant attempts to make this mess appear to be their fault when I do not believe it is and against stupid questions like many of those posed in the WaPo column. 2. Please note that your quote from the FEMA web site ends with ‘FEMA’s mission within the new department is to lead the effort to prepare the nation for all potential disasters and to manage the federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident ‘whether natural or man-made.‘ 2a. Note ‘following any national incident’. The hurricane was a natural disaster, but there’s more than an element of ‘man-made’ here to. If questions would be rephrased to read ‘Why aren’t George Bush and FEMA doing more to respond to the disaster caused by state and local officials to take care of their own?’ I’d be satisfied. As I’ve said, it’s not that the feds are necessarily doing things right, it’s just that critics are missing what’s much more important in their rush to condemn the President. Depending upon the findings of investigations and inquiries down the road, I suspect that we’re going to discover that the real ‘disaster’ was not the hurricane itself but the failure to plan for it and the failure to put into motion the plans that did exist. And that the overwhelming fault is going to lie at the state and local level.