By DALE McFEATTERS
His administration’s belated and inept response to Hurricane Katrina, including a seemingly callous Air Force One flyover of human misery, was a low point of the Bush presidency, and he has been struggling to regain his standing ever since.
As a White House press release carefully reminds us, since the drowning of New Orleans the president has been back to the Gulf Coast 12 times, the first lady 13 times and members of his Cabinet 82 times. (That someone would tabulate the number of Cabinet visits shows the depth of anxiety.)
This week, the president and Laura Bush were back for the one-year anniversary of Katrina and their 13th and 14th visits respectively. And seeking to defuse the obvious criticism, that same White House press release notes "rebuilding will take time _ the one-year anniversary is not a finish deadline." That’s a backhanded acknowledgement that what’s been accomplished is far short of what could be reasonably expected.
The White House makes much of the federal commitment of $110 billion, of which $77 billion "either has been dispensed or is available for states to draw from." But of that, $33 billion has still not been spent.
Homeowners and businesses complain of agonizingly complicated and impenetrable red tape and such bureaucratic Catch-22s as requiring a broke property to first pay for the repairs and then seek federal reimbursement. Only half New Orleans’ pre-flood population has returned. Many of those who haven’t returned probably won’t, but it’s also likely that many of them haven’t come back because they can’t.
Six of the city’s nine hospitals remain closed and not even half of the public schools are expected to reopen this fall. Public services are fitful at best.
To be fair, New Orleans had grave problems before and it is traumatized now. The city made only casual preparations for hurricane disaster scenarios that proved chillingly prescient and accurate. And the Big Easy was never a model of honest government and civic efficiency.
That said, New Orleans remains an embarrassing reproach to President Bush and the federal government.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)