It is perhaps instructive that Hurricane Irene threatened to devastate the East Coast almost exactly six years after Katrina did indeed devastate the Gulf Coast in and around New Orleans.
Now, to be sure, then-President George W. Bush did make his share of blunders in responding to the storm, perhaps his greatest being that he respected our federal system and trusted local authorities, who traditionally direct the response to handle natural disasters. The federal government merely plays a supporting role.
“One hundred years ago,” John Hinderaker wrote yesterday about the incumbent’s pretense of taking charge of hurricane relief efforts
. . . people understood that the president had nothing to do with hurricanes. Now, the president is expected to pretend to have control over more or less everything. This has something to do with the inexorable expansion of federal power, and also something to do with the dumbing-down of the American people.
Six years ago, our friends in the mainstream media used this expectation of of presidential responsibility over disaster relief to prove that the then-incumbent was the incompetent they knew him to be. His image never recovered from their assault (though it just might have had he then had a press secretary who was not in a perpetual “defensive crouch“).
As the facts trickled out, it became increasingly clear that local authorities botched relief efforts in Louisiana. Recall, that the storm devastated coastal regions in Mississippi and Alabama, but the chaos centered around Louisiana. The then-Governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, dilly-dallied before declining the “dual-hat” command structure to accommodate her concerns about “federalizing the response“. President Bush was concerned about overstepping his bounds and not interfering with state responsibilities.
And because of those concerns for our federal structure, he was blamed for the Democratic governor’s failures. This supposed incompetence fit the expectations of those in our media, even if the real incompetence was at the local level, even if the stories about the disaster exaggerated the suffering and downplayed the accomplishments.
As Glenn Reynolds put it eight months after the disaster, “what they learned was that if they all shouted lies in unison they could drive Bush down in the polls.” And so they did. They expected him to fail and shaped the facts about the Katrina disaster to fit their expectations.