The Political Damage Bush Faces From Katrina
A couple of stories that we need to ponder before this day gets away from us. First, our friend Lis Bumiller over at the New York Times, who is very close to the White House, tells us that there is one other casualty of Bush’s negligence over Katrina and his indifference to the plight of New Orleans. After years of effort by Rove and recent attempts by Ken Mehlman at the RNC to bamboozle blacks into thinking that the GOP cares about them, Bush has managed to blow all that up in less than two weeks.
From the political perspective of the White House, Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than an enormous swath of the Gulf Coast. The storm also appears to have damaged the carefully laid plans of Karl Rove, President Bush's political adviser, to make inroads among black voters and expand the reach of the Republican Party for decades to come.
Many African-Americans across the country said they seethed as they watched the television pictures of the largely poor and black victims of Hurricane Katrina dying for food and water in the New Orleans Superdome and the convention center. A poll released last week by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center bore out that reaction as well as a deep racial divide: Two-thirds of African-Americans said the government's response to the crisis would have been faster if most of the victims had been white, while 77 percent of whites disagreed.
(B)ehind the scenes in the West Wing, there has been anxiety and scrambling - after an initial misunderstanding, some of the president's advocates say, of the racial dimension to the crisis.
Second, Dan Froomkin’s piece in today’s Post needs to be read because Froomkin wrote it inside the Beltway, to be read by the inside-the-Beltway audience:
Amid a slew of stories this weekend about the embattled presidency and the blundering government response to the drowning of New Orleans, some journalists who are long-time observers of the White House are suddenly sharing scathing observations about President Bush that may be new to many of their readers.
Is Bush the commanding, decisive, jovial president you've been hearing about for years in so much of the mainstream press?
Maybe not so much.
Judging from the blistering analyses in Time, Newsweek, and elsewhere these past few days, it turns out that Bush is in fact fidgety, cold and snappish in private. He yells at those who dare give him bad news and is therefore not surprisingly surrounded by an echo chamber of terrified sycophants. He is slow to comprehend concepts that don't emerge from his gut. He is uncomprehending of the speeches that he is given to read. And oh yes, one of his most significant legacies -- the immense post-Sept. 11 reorganization of the federal government which created the Homeland Security Department -- has failed a big test.
Maybe it's Bush's sinking poll numbers -- he is, after all, undeniably an unpopular president now. Maybe it's the way that the federal response to the flood has cut so deeply against Bush's most compelling claim to greatness: His resoluteness when it comes to protecting Americans.
But for whatever reason, critical observations and insights that for so long have been zealously guarded by mainstream journalists, and only doled out in teaspoons if at all, now seem to be flooding into the public sphere.
An emperor-has-no-clothes moment seems upon us.
Let’s see where this goes from here. What we do know is that the latest ABC News/Post poll out today shows Bush with his lowest approval rating ever in that poll of 42%, and these findings, buried on Page 8 tomorrow:
Even some members of Bush's own party appear to have lost faith in their leader: The president's overall approval rating among Republicans has declined from 91 percent in January to 78 percent in the latest poll.
Overall, half the country now characterizes Bush as a "strong leader" -- down 12 points since May of last year. And the proportion who say he can be "trusted in a crisis" likewise has fallen from 60 percent to 49 percent now.
The survey found that 76 percent of the public favors an investigation of federal storm response efforts by an independent commission similar to the one that probed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The proposal drew strong bipartisan support: 64 percent of all Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats favored creating the independent panel.
So the Democrats are on safe ground in demanding an independent commission to investigate government’s failures in responding to Katrina, especially when nearly two-thirds of Bush’s own party wants one.
But look at how the Katrina aftermath has affected other parts of the GOP agenda:
In the aftermath of what likely will be the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history, six in 10 Americans want lawmakers to delay action on pending legislation that would cut federal taxes by an estimated $70 billion over the next five years. Those proposed cuts include eliminating the inheritance tax, a Bush priority that supporters now say faces an uncertain fate. Half of all Republicans joined with two-thirds of Democrat to support delaying proposed tax cuts.
Democrats now have the means to challenge the moral values of a GOP and White House that would use this tragedy to push through more goodies for the wealthy at a time of need for all Americans. Framing is a key now, as George Lakoff says, and the Democrats need to get on the right side of the argument by making a case for bringing the country together to take care of the victims of this calamity while also healing the divisions in the country. There is still room to argue for accountability, but by taking the moral values argument and clubbing the GOP over the head with it, Democrats will set a good springboard heading into next year.