"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." Theodore Roosevelt
Hurricane Katrina struck at the core of Bush's presidency by undermining the central assertion of his reelection campaign, that he was a strong and decisive leader who could keep the country safe in a crisis. Never again will the White House be able to point to his often-praised performance after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, without skeptics recalling the fumbling and slow-off-the-mark response of his administration after the hurricane and the flooding in New Orleans.
So here is the White House's Katrina Plan in a nutshell: block any independent examination of its failings, put the Einstein of damage control in charge of reconstructing New Orleans, keep the dead bodies out of sight, try to get away with general platitudes and palliatives, offer watered-down acceptances of "responsibility" while trying to pin everything you can on local yokels and fall guys like Brownie, and let Bush's corporate cronies get fat on hefty no-bid reconstruction contracts.
It's a given that the Bush administration, which tried to turn Iraq into a laboratory for conservative economic policies, will try the same thing on the Gulf Coast. The Heritage Foundation, which has surely been helping Karl Rove develop the administration's recovery plan, has already published a manifesto on post-Katrina policy. It calls for waivers on environmental rules, the elimination of capital gains taxes and the private ownership of public school buildings in the disaster areas. And if any of the people killed by Katrina, most of them poor, had a net worth of more than $1.5 million, Heritage wants to exempt their heirs from the estate tax.
The violence of Hurricane Katrina and his faltering response to it have left to Mr. Bush the task not just of physically rebuilding a swath of the United States, but also of addressing issues like poverty and racial inequality that were exposed in such raw form by the storm. The challenge would be immense for any president, but is especially so for Mr. Bush. He is scrambling to assure a shaken, angry nation not only that is he up to the task but also that he understands how much it disturbed Americans to see their fellow citizens suffering and their government responding so ineffectually.