Who do you think was more responsible for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina: George W. Bush or Barack Obama?
George W. Bush
"I am really down about the way the President has been attacked," Bush writes in a 2005 letter to journalist and long-time friend Hugh Sidey about the criticism directed at his son for the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. "Over and over again the networks attack him. First for being late in moving. Then for over flying Louisiana on the way back to Washington. Then on the snail like pace of relief."
Bush went on to say "My heart went out to him. Here is a guy who cares deeply. Who wants every possible resource of the Federal Government brought in to bear to help people, yet he is being roundly accused of not giving a damn...the critics do not know what is in 43's heart, how deeply he feels about the hurt, the anguish, the losses affecting so many people, most of them poor."
The senior Bush goes on to compare the criticism of his son with his own experiences being shot down by Japanese forces during his time in the U.S. Navy, and concludes, ""Now I see some of his most nasty critics trying to shoot down my beloved son — shoot him down by mean-spirited attacks. I was a scared kid back then. Now I am just an angry old man hurting for my son."
In other Bush family news, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum (known as Bush Center) will be unveiled next month at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
The film is set in a mythical place called the Bathtub, situated beyond the last levee protecting Louisiana's coastal wetlands. It centers on a 6-year-old girl named Hushpuppy, her ailing father Wink, an absent mother and a coming storm. Hushpuppy's world is full of wild animals, close-knit neighbors and fantastic creatures who may signal the end of all things.
That is not what Ben Kenigsberg, movie critic for Time Out Chicago, saw:
The surprise of this magical-realist tale, a sensation at Sundance this year, is that it allegorizes Katrina as George W. Bush might like to remember it. In the Bathtub (standing in for the Lower Ninth Ward), every day is a holiday, and the largely black residents are depicted as alcoholics, inattentive parents or fools who accidentally set fire to their homes. When authorities do intervene, they’re helpless anyway: Bathtubbers run from the hospital. Forget FEMA; in a message amplified by Hushpuppy’s valediction, the movie implies hurricane victims would rather take care of their own.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has a new memoir, No Higher Honor, and it's the most thorough look at her widely publicized (and criticized) New York vacation, which continued after the levee collapse in New Orleans and the devastation in Mississippi.
Newsweek has a substantial excerpt in this week's issue:
That evening, upon arriving at the Palace Hotel, I flipped on the television. Indeed, the hurricane had hit New Orleans. I called Henrietta, who said that the main issue was making sure our people were safe. She’d also convened a departmental task force because offers of foreign assistance were pouring in. I called Secretary of Homeland Security Mike Chertoff, inquiring if there was anything I could do. “It’s pretty bad,” he said. We discussed the question of foreign help briefly, but Mike was clearly in a hurry. He said he’d call if he needed me. I hung up, got dressed, and went to see Spamalot.
The next morning, I went shopping at the Ferragamo shoe store down the block from my hotel, returned to the Palace to await Randy and Mariann’s arrival, and again turned on the television. The airwaves were filled with devastating pictures from New Orleans. And the faces of most of the people in distress were black. I knew right away that I should never have left Washington.
Not mentioned in the memoir excerpt is this bit of coverage that day from Gawker:
Just moments ago at the Ferragamo on 5th Avenue, Condoleeza Rice was seen spending several thousands of dollars on some nice, new shoes (we've confirmed this, so her new heels will surely get coverage from the WaPo's Robin Givhan). A fellow shopper, unable to fathom the absurdity of Rice's timing, went up to the Secretary and reportedly shouted, "How dare you shop for shoes while thousands are dying and homeless!"
Back to the Rice memoir:
A few minutes later, my senior advisor, Jim Wilkinson, walked into my suite. “Boss, I should have seen this coming,” he said. He showed me the day’s Drudge Report headline on the Web: “Eyewitness: Sec of State Condi Rice laughs it up at ‘Spamalot’ while Gulf Coast lays in tatter.” “Get a plane up here to take me home,” I said. I called Mariann and Randy and apologized and then sat there kicking myself for having been so tone-deaf. I wasn’t just the secretary of state with responsibility for foreign affairs; I was the highest-ranking black in the administration and a key advisor to the President. What had I been thinking?
Rice subsequently returned to Washington and then to Mobile, Ala., where she stopped at a black church and visited with some Vietnamese shrimpers. In the book, she describes her "lingering wound":
Yet for me the lingering wound of Katrina is that some used the explosive “race card” to paint the President as a prejudiced, uncaring man. It was so unfair, cynical, and irresponsible.
If the cover photo of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's upcoming memoir, Katrina's Secrets, seems a little familiar, there's a good reason for that:
The Aug. 31, 2005 photo of President George W. Bush flying over New Orleans was widely criticized upon its release as a symbol of the president's detachment from Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. When his own memoir, Decision Points, was published several years later, Bush told NBC's Matt Lauer that the photograph had been "a huge mistake."
Jay-Z appeared on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross promoting his memoir Decoded. In it, he reflects on his rough upbringing, drug dealing and rap career — he also discusses Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. In the interview, Gross asked him for his thoughts on former President George W. Bush's memoir (Decision Points) and his "lowest point of his presidency" comment, referring to rapper Kanye West saying "George Bush doesn't care about black people" on live TV. Here's what he said:
First, I find it strange like everyone else that one of his lowest points is somebody talking about him. People should insult him a lot. That's part of the job description. People are not going to be happy with what you do. When certain events happen like Katrina, when you see people on a roof, people of color for the most part ... and this is happening on TV, and you see the commander in chief just drive by on a plane ... we were all angry. ... It felt like something happening directly to blacks. ... Kanye really spoke what everyone else felt."
Jay-Z elaborates more in his memoir. Here's an excerpt:
Kanye caught a lot of heat for coming on that telethon and saying, "George Bush doesn't care about black people," but I backed him one hundred percent on it, if only because he was expressing a feeling that was bottled up in a lot of our hearts. It didn't feel like Katrina was just a natural disaster that arbitrarily swept through a corner of the United States. Katrina felt like something that was happening to black people, specifically.
I know all sorts of people in Louisiana and Mississippi got washed out, too, and saw their lives destroyed — but in America, we process that sort of thing as a tragedy. When it happens to black people, it feels like something else, like history rerunning its favorite loop. It wasn't just me. People saw that Katrina shit, heard the newscasters describing the victims as "refugees" in their own country, waited in vain for the government to step in and rescue those people who were dying right in front of our eyes, and we took it personally. I got angry. But more than that, I just felt hurt. In moments like that, it all starts coming back to you: slavery, images of black people in suits and dresses getting beaten on the bridge to Selma, the whole ugly story you sometimes want to think is over. And then it's back, like it never left. I felt hurt in a personal way for those people floating on cars and waving on the roofs of their shotgun houses, crying into the cameras for help, being left on their porches. Maybe I felt some sense of shame that we'd let this happen to our brothers and sisters. Eventually I hit the off button on the remote control. I went numb.
Read the full excerpt here.
Former president George W. Bush also has a new book — Decision Points — and he made several TV appearances this week to promote it, including sitdowns with Oprah Winfrey and NBC’s Matt Lauer. But one odd confession in the book piqued the attention of both interviewers and critics, and that was his objection to Kanye West’s criticism of his performance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina ("George Bush doesn't care about black people"). In the book, Bush wrote:
“I faced a lot of criticism as president. I didn't like hearing people claim I had lied about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was a racist, because of the response to Katrina, represented an all-time low. I told Laura at the time that it was the worst moment of my presidency. I feel the same way today.”
“You’re not saying the worst moment in your presidency was watching the misery in Louisiana. You’re saying it was when someone insulted you because of that,” said Lauer. The former president, still clearly peeved, told Lauer: “I also make it clear that the misery in Louisiana affected me deeply as well."
Bush also discusses "Brownie," former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the (in)famous photo of him flying over New Orleans, looking out the window of Air Force One. Watch:
It was a long time coming, but finally the digital numbers did wind down to flashing zeros on a friend's fridge magnet, above.
Meanwhile, the Obama team wasted no time staking a position on the Katrina aftermath. On a feature of the White House Web site listing the administration's agenda, a section on "Katrina" is none too gentle with the Bush legacy on the disaster:
"President Obama will keep the broken promises made by President Bush to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. He and Vice President Biden will take steps to ensure that the federal government will never again allow such catastrophic failures in emergency planning and response to occur."
There are no details here about what Obama will do differently, but the administration does claim he "will partner with the people of the Gulf Coast to rebuild now, stronger than ever."
I guess we'll see how that shapes up.
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