People Get Ready

[ make levees, not war ]

The Bush v. Nagin pissing match

Posted by schroeder915 on May 3, 2006

I’m so glad “the grownups” are in the White House.

Who else but President Bush would have authorized FEMA to cut and run from New Orleans with over 200,000 residents still trying to get home.

“It’s like a kid who has all the marbles saying he’s going home,” said
U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-La.

In FEMA’s defense, local leaders (i.e., Governor Blanco and Ray Nagin) still don’t have a plan:

“FEMA cannot drive the planning — our mission is to support it. We can only do so much, and then we look to the city to embrace and begin planning and managing,” FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker said. “We have reached that point where the city needs to take that step forward. And once they begin planning, we can re-engage with them.”

There is justification for the complaint. Governor Blanco and Ray Nagin have had eight months with emergency powers to show results, but where’s the plan?

The popular historian pundit with a history degree, Douglas Brinkley, found anecdotes which bring into question, in particular, Ray Nagin’s ability to lead:

Brinkley mocks Nagin for spending a long time showering and grooming himself in the bathroom of Air Force One in an anecdote attributed to Ron Forman.

“A top priority for Nagin, in addition to the shower, was that his head be shaved properly, possibly for his photo op with President Bush,” the article says. “But, like a teenager, Nagin just wouldn’t get out of the bathroom. Aides rapped on the door, telling the mayor, ‘You’ve got five minutes and then the president gets here.’ They knocked again. But, still, Nagin dallied. . . . One agent kicked the door and told Nagin to get out; the president had arrived and didn’t have time to waste on vanity.” …

When Nagin eventually decamped to Dallas for a trip Brinkley says lasted five days, beginning Sept. 7, Blanco railed that he was gone too long. “In the heat of everything that was going on, he’s screaming about no leadership and he’s a total void.”

There are more interesting anecdotes (if not, exactly, rigorous “history”) in The Times-Picayune story which highlights Douglas Brinkley’s article to be printed in Vanity Fair, including a story about Mitch Landrieu looking for keys to RTA buses to move evacuees, instead finding Nagin on the 27th floor of the Hyatt hotel “hunkered down” and “cloistered.”

So what it comes down to is that for eight months New Orleanians have been stuck in the middle of a little pissing match between two children in high office — Bush and Nagin. Now, I know that nothing short of a major kick in the ass was going to get Bush to leave his month-long vacation in Crawford, and to take the unfolding disaster of Hurricane Katrina seriously. We know Nagin can bark, but eight months after Hurricane Katrina, we have yet to see that he’s learned any other tricks that might get White House attention focused on constructive results here in New Orleans. Fortunately, we can remove Nagin from office in less than a month, but we have to tolerate another 993 days of Bush, including two more hurricane seasons.

As for FEMA’s failings, Paul Krugman’s New York Times opinion was reprinted in the Monday Times-Picayune (not available online):

The U.S. government is being stalked by an invisible bandit, the Crony Fairy, who visits key agencies by dead of night, snatches away qualified people and replaces them with unqualified political appointees. …

In the early 1990s, FEMA’s reputation was as bad as it is today. It was a dumping ground for political cronies, headed by a man whose only apparent qualification for the job was that he was a close friend of the first President Bush’s chief of staff. FEMA’s response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 perfectly foreshadowed Katrina: the agency took three days to arrive on the scene, and when it did, it proved utterly incompetent.

Many people thought that FEMA was a lost cause. But Bill Clinton proved them wrong. He appointed qualified people to lead the agency and gave them leeway to hire other qualified people, and within a year FEMA’s morale and performance had soared. For the rest of the Clinton years, FEMA was among the most highly regarded agencies in the federal government.

What happened to that reputation? The answer, of course, is that the second President Bush returned to his father’s practices. Once again, FEMA became a dumping ground for cronies. It took only a few years to transform one of the best agencies in the U.S. government into what Sen. Susan Collins calls “a shambles and beyond repair.”

In other words, the Crony Fairy is named George. W. Bush.

5/05/06 update: There’s more analysis of FEMA failures in Salon.com:

The Bush administration’s distance from local disaster-relief officials is by design. From the moment Bush stepped into office, he’s been determined to move away from the coordinated state/local/federal disaster-relief approach used by Clinton.

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3 Responses to “The Bush v. Nagin pissing match”

  1. Mr. Clio said

    Brinkley is a dangerous ally. I’m glad you’ve labelled him a pundit. He’s got an agenda, and I’m not sure that only his ego is driving it. I detect a certain social circle behind his opinions.

  2. Schroeder said

    I caught the tail end of his interview today on — oh … who’s that annoying as hell morning guy before Spud McConnell who talks over his guests and rambles (oh, that’s everyone at WWL). Anyway, Brinkley called Nagin narcisstic for thinking that he was the subject of a 700 page book that examined the history of several mayoral administrations. He *tried* to add what his source for the Nagin Air Force One bathroom story was — a diary written by someone who was there — but the annoying host began rambling some more and took away Brinkley’s time to speak.

  3. jeffrey said

    I caught the same interview. It’s Bob Delgiorno (sp?) God I hate that guy… almost as much as I hate Brinkley.

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