Shame on Bush for Trying To Defend Federal Katrina Response

By Roland S. Martin

January 15, 2009 5 min read

Seeing as we heard so much about pigs and lipstick during the general election campaign, courtesy of Sarah Palin, I've tried as hard as ever not to use the often-recited reference in a column or on TV or radio since.

But after listening to President George W. Bush try mightily to characterize the federal response to Hurricane Katrina as being swift, I can't help but say that this cowboy is trying his best to paint a coat of lipstick on that pig, and it is still a smelly snortin' pig.

There is little doubt that Bush's greatest international failure was lying in order to go to war in Iraq; those pesky weapons of mass destruction. Bush, his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and Vice President Dick Cheney were adamant that Saddam Hussein had them and that nothing else mattered when it came to going to war in Iraq.

Now, if we had to determine his absolute worst domestic failure, nothing comes close to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

There are a lot of horrible things that happen on a daily basis that blow past us in a whir, but the haunting images of seeing bodies floating in floodwater; men, women and children screaming with all their might on rooftops; and the disgraceful conditions in the Louisiana Superdome will resonate in our spirits for a lifetime.

Yet each time he was asked about it, The Great Decider could not bring himself to be honest and forthright about his failure of leadership.

At his last official news conference, when wondering what he could have done differently, Bush offered this incredible response: "I've thought long and hard about Katrina — you know, could I have done something differently, like land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. The problem with that … is that law enforcement would have been pulled away from the mission."

Land your plane? That's it? Not take charge of the situation. Not clear the roads to allow buses, food and water to get in. Not send in troops and put everyone in the Superdome on buses to a nearby military base. No, you've thought about it, and all you can come up with is "I should have landed my plane"? Then Bush, raising his voice and jabbing his finger on the lectern for emphasis, offered this gem: "People said, well, the federal response was slow. Don't tell me the federal response was slow when there was 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed. … That's a pretty quick response."

Isn't it interesting that Bush failed to mention that 1,300 bodies were recovered? He's trying to hang his hat on those rescued, and praise the Lord for that, but that's like former President Bill Clinton saying his action to stop genocide in Rwanda saved several thousand lives after 800,000 were slaughtered.

So this is what Bush meant by "compassionate conservatism."

I would have far more respect for him in this regard if he simply would look in the camera and say: "We failed. The state, the city and the federal government — we all failed. And, folks, I failed. And my greatest regret is that I did not step in and make sure all that needed to be done was done."

But the man who has refused to admit mistakes just can't do that.

It is my desire that as Bush rides off into the sunset, focusing on his presidential library, he makes rebuilding the Gulf Coast his primary post-presidential role. Clinton has Global Initiative, which targets health needs in Africa. Bush should spend his time in New Orleans, the rural parts of Louisiana, and portions of Mississippi and Alabama, helping to rebuild homes, offering to do fundraisers. He should make it his mission to oversee the return of this important region.

He clearly failed when he was president. Maybe he can take advantage of this second chance.

Mr. President, stop with the excuses. You failed. Now do some good where it is sorely needed.

Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN contributor and the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." Please visit his Web site at www.RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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