The Corner

Thoughtful E-Mail

Agree that really the only political angle on this is the loss of order, and perception that Bush had the power to stop it yet did not.

I quibble with the idea that he actually had the power to stop it. In situations like these, local authorities are the 1st responders. This arrangement is inherent to our federal structure. State and local governments need to hold the line until help can arrive from other states, as coordinated via FEMA and inter state compacts. Instead, MSNBC had video of NO cops looting a Walmart.

Politically, Bush is a victim of decades of incompetence by NO and LA municipal and state governments. The breaching the levees was a predictable disaster yet, as far as I can tell, there was no disaster preparedness to speak of. No posted evacuation routes, no marshalling of public transportation assets to empty hospitals and collect the elderly, infirm or indigent.

Law enforcement did little to enforce the evacuation order and there appeared to be no effective alarm when the waters started rising. It was basically: “if you have a car, drive away, otherwise walk to the SuperDome, if you can’t walk you’re screwed.” And, when the looting started, the authorities did nothing to nip it in the bud it despite the time-honored maxim that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” (BTW, I learned that from NRODT when in college, I think during the LA riots).

Short of parachuting in the 82nd Airborne, there was nothing Bush could do over the last 2 days to prevent this disorder. If had made a more emphatic statement he would have looked weak when it was not carried out. As you’ve noted, military and NG assets are en route. In a few days, FEMA will get its act together and the various charities will begin to channel the immense generosity of the American people to the victims. But the images of looting, and heartbreaking stories of hospitals being robbed and ambulances being carjacked will be remembered for a long time.

The key point about Rudy was that he handled the first responder role until help could come from outside. This is not merely due to the differences in the situations. The NYC government was way more competent (despite bad radio penetration into buildings) than that of NO and New Yorkers behaved in an extremely civilized fashion (not just on 9/11 but also after the blackout 2 years ago). To me Rick Rescorla, the Morgan Stanley security chief who died in the towers after saving 100s, was at least as big a hero as Rudy as he was PREPARED. Seems like there were no culture of preparation in NO.

Politics is not fair, so no doubt the Dems will exploit this major political liability largely caused by generations of corrupt Democratic rule in NO and LA. You guys can analyze the political fallout from the looting and other crime. I can’t get my mind off of the suffering and death that could have been avoided by better preparation and more competent local leadership. I not only want to see the looters and carjackers shot, I wish I could drive down there and do it myself.

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: 

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