Politics & Policy

The Blame Game

Look local.

The Bush administration is excoriating what it calls “the blame game.” If the alacrity with which Bush critics began their Katrina criticisms was unseemly, a vigorous “blame game” is still the only way to keep government failures from being conveniently ignored. But if Democrats and media get their way, recriminations will swing only one way–at President Bush and the feds.

Consider Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, who has informally been designated as Washington’s spokeswoman for the victims of Katrina. She has called the federal response to the storm “incompetent and insulting.” But asked on Fox News Sunday about the failure to evacuate the city prior to Katrina’s landfall by state and local officials, Landrieu averred, “I am not going to level criticism at the local level,” and suddenly insisted “now is not the time for finger-pointing.” Landrieu’s finger, in other words, can only point in one direction.

In the interest of balance, here are some questions that should be put to state and local officials: There is a document called the “City of New Orleans Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan,” which is a detailed strategy for a looming catastrophe like Katrina. City officials have now made it clear that they never had any intention of putting it fully into operation. So why did they write it in the first place?

The mayor wasted precious time prior to the storm having his lawyers investigate whether he had the authority to issue a mandatory evacuation, when the city’s own plan says that he can. Did anyone even bother to read the plan?

The plan said about 100,000 people wouldn’t make it out of the city. Didn’t that fact weigh on city officials’ minds in the years they had to prepare for a killer storm?

Why was a fleet of several hundred buses, which could have been used by an energetic and imaginative government to evacuate people prior to the storm, left in a parking lot to be flooded?

Evacuating hospitals and nursing homes should have been the first priority of the city. How could they just have been left to fend for themselves? More than 30 people died in the floodwaters in St. Rita’s nursing home alone.

Why did the city fail to take advantage of what Amtrak says was its offer to take a couple hundred passengers on its last train out of New Orleans?

How difficult would it have been to stock food and water at the Superdome? Wouldn’t that have been a sounder approach rather than tell people to “eat a full meal before arriving” and bring their own food and water?

Was it a good idea to try, in effect, to starve out the evacuees at the Superdome and the convention center? Local officials hammered the feds for not getting desperate evacuees at those spots food and water. But the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security explicitly prevented the Red Cross from delivering supplies on the theory that that would only encourage people to stay in New Orleans.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco didn’t specifically request from the federal government what her state needed until the Thursday after the storm hit. Couldn’t she have done that a little sooner?

The governor has control of the National Guard. Why didn’t she send more troops immediately after the storm? According to Mayor Ray Nagin, in the initial days “we fought and held that city together with only 200 state National Guard.”

What kind of city police force has as much as 20 percent of its personnel go AWOL when it is needed most?

If the governor wanted active-duty military patrolling in New Orleans during the chaos, why didn’t she accept the federalization of the National Guard that Justice Department officials say would have been necessary to make it happen?

If funding for the levees protecting New Orleans was so inadequate, how could Louisiana Congressional representatives waste, as the Washington Post put it, “hundreds of millions of dollars” on “unrelated water projects”?

Let the recriminations begin.

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.

(c) 2005 King Features Syndicate

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