On Bush's Terrible Katrina Anniversary Speech
As a result of summer term finals and transcontinental travel, I’ve neglected this blog recently. I feel I should post something today, however, because as has been widely covered in the press, this week marks the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. With this post, I'll highlight some of the best of the anniversary coverage, then criticize the President's speech from the Lower Ninth Ward.
There has been front-page coverage of the slow recovery process in plenty of MSM outlets this week. Perhaps I should complain that it takes something like a political scandal or a major anniversary to bring this vital humanitarian issue coverage, but the fact is, any coverage is welcome, and there has been an overall uptick in coverage this past month anyway. The NPR story on FEMA trailers I wrote about earlier this month turns out to have been part of a large series, and Time magazine ran a major cover article on Katrina recovery and levee strength. The article began with the crucial point, “The most important thing to remember about the drowning of New Orleans is that it wasn't a natural disaster. It was a man-made disaster, created by lousy engineering, misplaced priorities and pork-barrel politics.”
I won’t go into too much detail on the second anniversary, as it has been covered extensively elsewhere. Ana Marie wrote a great article on what it feels like to live in post-Katrina New Orleans, and the depression that accompanies that lifestyle. Thanks, Katrina has a nice round-up of anniversary stories, including a passionate, well-written AP article by a New Orleans native and highlights many of the ongoing problems. Campus Progress has a good piece, too. I also noticed this New York Times graphic (below), which literally illustrates the progress that has been made, and the progress that hasn’t. The Times Picayune has a similar graphic.
The only thing I would like to add to this symphony is a critique of the President’s anniversary speech. I heard highlights from the speech last night on NPR, and while you’d think I’d be used to the man’s blind incompetence by now, I still couldn’t believe my ears. He said,
A lot of people down here probably wondered whether or not those of us in the federal government not from Louisiana would pay attention to Louisiana or Mississippi. In other words, it's one thing to come and give a speech in Jackson Square; it's another thing to keep paying attention to whether or not progress is being made. And I hope people understand we do, we're still paying attention. We understand.
Yes, believe it or not, the President did indeed cite “paying attention” as his greatest achievement in Katrina recovery. “Sure, we’ve spent twice as much money on foreign entanglements, and true, my recovery czar has no real authority to get things done, but never mind all that, because we’re paying attention!” Sheesh! Instead of pointing to the fact that you pay attention to the accomplishments of others, how’s about you point to your own accomplishments? Oh, that’s right, it’s because you haven’t made any!
Bush gave his speech outside Martin Luther King, Jr. elementary school in the Lower Ninth Ward, and said, “This is the first public school to open in the Lower Ninth Ward. It is a tribute to volunteers, concerned parents and citizens who care about education.” You’re damn right it’s a tribute to volunteers! Local citizens and volunteers, led by the Common Ground Collective, broke into the school to start gutting and cleaning it up themselves long before the government ever got involved. I drove by that school about four times a day during my three months in New Orleans, and it’s an absolute joke for Bush to use it as his personal backdrop.
The President did get one thing right when he said,
It's sometimes hard for people to see progress when you live in a community all the time. Laura and I get to come -- we don't live here, we come on occasion. And it's easy to think about what it was like when we first came here after the hurricane, and what it's like today. And this town is coming back. This town is better today than it was yesterday, and it's going to be better tomorrow than it was today.
I can attest to this myself. I’ve made three trips to the region (not sure yet when or if I’ll make a fourth), and each successive time I’ve seen progress that wasn’t there the previous time. Friends who live there will ask me, “Can you see any progress?” and I’m almost always able to point to things they had not noticed or thought about. It’s like watching your children grow—it’s tough to notice the two inches that took six months to happen, but the aunts at the family reunion sure notice!
But being personally perceptive does not excuse the President’s wanton neglect and patronization of Gulf Coast residents. Your Right Hand Thief complains of his constantly referring to New Orleans as "this part of the world," like it really is a foreign country and not a part of the United States. What bothers me is his frequent use of the phrase, "I appreciate." He tells us he appreciates a number of Louisiana school superintendents, he appreciates the Governor, he appreciates Alberto Gonzalez, and on and on and on. It sounds so damn arrogant—we don’t *care* what you appreciate, Mr. President, these people aren’t doing their work for YOU! They’re doing it for the residents of New Orleans; what do *those* folks appreciate? I’ll bet they sure as hell don’t appreciate you!