Myths of Hurricane Katrina
Like looters, the Angry Left seeks opportunity in disaster.

The Australian, Thursday, September 8, 2005

Hurricane Katrina was a horrific natural disaster. To America's Angry Left it was yet another occasion to score political points against President George W. Bush. In the same spirit of opportunism that animated looters who stole television sets, Bush's political foes frantically sought to blame the devastation on him.

A measure of the anti-Bush Left's derangement is that it blames him for bad weather. "Complacency will no longer suffice, especially if experts are right in warning that global warming may increase the intensity of future hurricanes," The New York Times editorialised on Thursday. "But since this administration won't acknowledge that global warming exists, the chances of leadership seem minimal."

Whether global warming exists or not, it did not cause Katrina, at least according to a news story that had appeared in the Times two days earlier: "Because hurricanes form over warm ocean water, it is easy to assume that the recent rise in their number and ferocity is because of global warming. But that is not the case, scientists say. Instead, the severity of hurricane seasons changes with cycles of temperatures of several decades in the Atlantic Ocean."

Then we heard that the National Guard was unable to do its duty in the Gulf Coast because it had been "stretched thin" by deployment to Iraq; "deployed in a phony war," as former New York Times editor Howell Raines claimed in a particularly inflammatory article in The Sydney Morning Herald and several US papers at the weekend. But as James Robbins pointed out in National Review Online, only 10.2 per cent of the US Army, including the guard and reserves, is in Iraq; 74.2 per cent, or 751,000 soldiers, are stationed in the US. In any case, this argument died down as the troops arrived in great force late in the week.

The most pernicious myth the Angry Left propagated was that the storm victims were neglected because of their race. "I feel that, if it was in another area, with another economic strata and racial make-up, that President Bush would have run out of Crawford a lot quicker and FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] would have found its way in a lot sooner," said Al Sharpton, New York's premier racial arsonist.

In fact, Katrina was an equal-opportunity destroyer. The media's coverage of the disaster understandably centred on New Orleans, the biggest city in the region, which is two-thirds black. But the storm also devastated at least four suburban Louisiana parishes and three coastal Mississippi counties. All have white majorities, ranging from 69.8 per cent to 90.2 per cent. Appeals to race are especially dangerous when the US needs national solidarity. Special pleading on behalf of black victims may lead to special pleading on behalf of white victims. It may also reinforce ugly stereotypes. A USA Today editorial noted that most of the New Orleans victims were black, then added: "So are most of the looters." And there have been reports of criminality that goes far beyond looting, including rape and murder. Avarice and depravity are human failings, but race-obsessed liberals may be contributing to the notion that they are racial ones.

The Angry Left seems finally to have settled on the claim that the Bush administration was incompetent, its actions slow and inept.

There may turn out to be some truth to this, but it's far too early to apportion blame. Responding to a disaster of unprecedented proportions is a monumentally complicated task and it's likely that officials at all levels of government made mistakes. Further, even the best-run government cannot work miracles, and it's unclear how much better the response could have been.

In any case, deeming the Bush administration incompetent at this stage reflects nothing more than the prejudices of the administration's critics and in some cases a plain disregard for the facts.

Journalist and blogger Andrew Sullivan, for example, lashed FEMA director Michael Brown for saying he hadn't learned until Thursday that several thousand people needed help at the New Orleans Convention Centre. "Brown apparently doesn't get CNN," Sullivan sneered.

But CNN didn't report on the convention centre situation until Thursday and no other news organisation seems to have known before then that more than a handful of people were there.

The American people seem to be taking a fair-minded view of all this. An ABC News poll released yesterday found that 55 per cent of Americans didn't blame the President for Katrina's devastation. And while 67 per cent thought the federal Government wasn't adequately prepared, 75 per cent said the same of state and local government. As with all the previous efforts to discredit the Bush administration, this one seems likely to fail.

Besides, one claim no one has had the audacity to make is that John Kerry would have done better. President Kerry, after all, would have faced this disaster with a total of 7 1/2 months' administrative experience in his lifetime.

Next article: How's He Doing? (9/12/05)

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