Sunday, March 05, 2006

Good Grief, Mark Hyman!

In his recent editorial about the politics of Katrina, Mark Hyman accuses the “Angry Left” of using the disaster as “a political football.” Hyman’s own words not only show the reverse to be true, but in his case, he ends up just like Charlie Brown trying to do a place kick with Lucy holding the ball for him: flat on his back in disgrace.

It’s bad enough that Hyman begins by approvingly quoting a viewer who says she’s “sick and tired” of New Orleans residents complaining about the federal government. And it goes downhill from there. Hyman’s editorial attempts to paint himself as above the political fray, yet his entire take on Katrina is an exercise in partisan politics. Hyman claims the difference between the Florida and New Orleans was that Florida had a “competent governor” while New Orleans had Ray Nagin. Hyman claims the damage in Mississippi “surpassed” that in Louisiana (a lie, by any standard you want to apply). The difference? Mississippi had a competent governor, unlike Louisiana.

Just in case you couldn’t guess, Florida and Mississippi have Republican governors (both with close ties to the current administration: Jeb Bush and Haley Barbour). Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco (the governor of Louisiana) are Democrats.

Who's playing political games with Katrina, Mark?

As if Hyman’s lies and eliding of certain small details (such as the fact that New Orleans was the only huge urban area directly hit by Katrina) weren’t embarrassing enough, his commentary is utterly discredited by the release of a video this week
showing an unconcerned President Bush being briefed about the dangers to New Orleans and not asking a single question about the situation. Moreover, Bush later said that no one could have guessed that the levees in New Orleans would give way. Yet the tape shows that Bush was presented with exactly this scenario as a real possibility.

Hyman coyly says that, sure, FEMA could have done better, since “large government bureaucracies often fall short.”

Nice try, Mark. Let’s forget FEMA for the moment, and just look at a single individual, George W. Bush. As
this photo timeline illustrates, Katrina wasn’t exactly on Bush’s radar screen. Indeed, he was happy to stay on vacation and make unrelated political speeches as the storm approached and made landfall. And as a devastating video timeline put together by Keith Olbermann at MSNBC illustrates, the administration’s response to the hurricane suggests that Republicans were “inhabiting a different plane of existence” when it came to the disaster.

Yet, despite the obvious mistakes, Bush and his administration take no responsibility for their failures. Despite lots of talk about personal responsibility, conservatives of the Bush stripe don’t believe in this for themselves (or their president). Instead, “Heckuva job” Brownie is made a scapegoat by the man who somehow decided that putting an utterly unqualified person in charge of FEMA was a good idea. Bush is the anti-Truman: the buck stops anywhere but in the Oval Office.

But is this just predictable complaining about a situation government couldn’t do much about, anyway? Wouldn’t the same thing have happened under any other president?

Well, no. As “
The Daily Howler” documented in the days following Katrina, when faced with a much less threatening storm, Bill Clinton actively coordinated disaster preparedness and FEMA was way ahead of the storm. He canceled vacation plans, and he declared disaster areas in advance of the storm making landfall. He also had appointed a FEMA head for his actual ability to handle emergencies rather than the fact that they were college buddies.

Should all levels of government, including Democrats and Republicans, have done better before, during, and after Katrina? Absolutely. But the only way things will be better in the future is if those in charge have the backbone to be honest with themselves and their constituents about what went wrong in the first place. Bush, ever the disinterested coward, doesn’t.

And just one more point. In honor of my late father, who could never hear anyone use the phrase “the lion’s share” improperly without wincing, I’ll just note that Hyman, like most people, mistakenly uses “lion’s share” as a synonym for “the majority” when it in fact means “all.” Check out the
original fable from Aesop from which the phrase comes.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.55


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