The Mayor Who Failed His City

IT’S OFFICIAL: THE AMERICAN LEFT NOW BELIEVES GEORGE W. BUSH IS GOD. Bellowing leftists such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cindy Sheehan have blamed Hurricane Katrina – something insurance companies classify as an act of God – on President Bush’s “killing policies” (and, in RFK Jr.’s case, those of Mississippi’s Republican governor, Haley Barbour). Former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal also penned an article in The Guardian chalking up the flood to the Bush administration’s having cut one item in the Army Corps of Engineers’ annual budget. (Desperate to build a presidential legacy, even ex post facto, ex-President Bill Clinton has intimated his administration did more to keep New Orleans safe than Bush’s.) Meanwhile, DNC Chair Howard Dean weighed in by demeaning Bush’s trip to the disaster area, calling it “just another callous political move crafted by Karl Rove.”

In addition to claiming Bush somehow fed the phantom of “global warming” to rain death upon his own citizens, the Left has alleged “racism” in his handling of this disaster. Jesse Jackson quipped post-Hurricane New Orleans looks like “the hull of a slave ship.” Director Michael Moore played the race card in an open letter to Bush on his website. They found an echo in the “Reverend” Al Sharpton, who told MSNBC’s abysmal Keith Olbermann, “I feel that, if it was in another area, with another economic strata and racial makeup, that President Bush would have run out of Crawford a lot quicker and FEMA would have found its way in a lot sooner.” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-MD, a member in good standing of the Congressional Black Caucus, played both the race and the God card, thundering:

We cannot allow it to be said that the difference between those who lived and those who died in this great storm and flood of 2005 was nothing more than poverty, age or skin color…To the president of the United States, I simply say that God cannot be pleased with our response.

And they say all the religious nutjobs are on the Right.

The Democrats’ avenging angel has come in the form of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, who has proposed a 9/11-style commission to probe the feds’ response to Hurricane Katrina. (After all, the original 9/11 Commission proved so exemplary.) Despite these transparent attempts to claw political advantage from the suffering of the downtrodden – after the National Guard forgeries, Plamegate, and conspiratorial ravings about the Federalist Society won them no traction – a Washington Post poll revealed 55 percent of Americans do not blame President Bush for the debacle in the Big Easy.

Perhaps that is because the American people intuit it is not the federal response that should be monitored but that of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, a Democrat and, coincidentally, a black man.

In accordance with the “City of New Orleans Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan” – a blueprint drawn up to deal with emergencies like this one – all “Authority to issue evacuations of elements of the population is vested in the Mayor.” The document specifically states, “The person responsible for recognition of hurricane related preparation needs and for the issuance of an evacuation order is the Mayor of the City of New Orleans.” This outline does not mention any specific federal government’s role in disaster relief, instead carving out roles for state and municipal governments. In fact, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted this holiday weekend, posse commitatus statutes bar federal officers from working as law enforcement officials.

Charged with so heavy a responsibility, Mayor Nagin punted, then passed the buck. The National Hurricane Center called Nagin Saturday night asking him to evacuate New Orleans, and President Bush also begged him to get his people to safety. As mayor, the final decision was Nagin’s. He was expected to issue such an order 48 hours before the storm made landfall; however, the storm touched down and the levees gave way less than 48 hours after his proclamation.

Moreover, he is to see that “Special arrangements will be made to evacuate persons unable to transport themselves or who require specific life saving assistance.” Yet some 205 buses, and perhaps a greater number of large transit vehicles, were left stranded in a flooded parking lot. University of New Orleans professor Shirley Laksa had calculated some 125,000 residents do not have private transportation. As a result of Nagin’s inaction, Katrina’s victims are twice as likely to be poor than the average American. These are the people who had no recourse but to wait for the local government to rescue them; these are the people municipal malfeasance and nonfeasance abandoned to an ill-equipped Superdome.

Despite these critical lapses in judgment, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, pressured her commander-in-chief to withhold all criticism of the local response (President Bush had not made any, justified though it might be), threatening that, if he didn’t, “I might likely have to punch him. Literally.” Although Washington was abuzz when Rep. Dan Burton called Bill Clinton a “scumbag,” no censure has been forthcoming for Landrieu.

The Left has not idled down its criticisms of Bush, blaming him for global warming and poor planning. The facts tell another tale. The infrastructure the Left criticizes Bush of withholding, planned by the Army Corps of Engineers, would have only defended the city from a level three storm; Katrina’s level five winds would have overwhelmed the project, even if it had been completed. Former Louisiana Democratic Senator John Breaux said the funds leftists blame Bush for cutting have been diverted by presidents since the 1970s. With the Left sniping at him over high deficits incurred by fighting a war in two nations, President Bush has had to trim non-essential spending, and no one considered it a vital priority to fund a system designed to guard against what Sen. Breaux called a “once every hundred years” storm. The experts several steps removed from the president – and on both sides of the aisle – simply bet a storm of this magnitude would not occur. The Army Corps of Engineers commander Lt. Gen. Carl Strock spelled out these sentiments: “We had an assurance that 99.5 percent this would be OK. We, unfortunately, have had that .5 percent activity here.” Strock also denied needed monies were diverted to Iraq.

However, this storm didn’t catch everyone by surprise. Scientists have known since the 1980s that the city’s levees would fail in a storm of Katrina’s magnitude.

The federal government’s response has been laudable. FEMA Director Mike Brown began moving federal resources into New Orleans two days before the storm hit. Currently, some 8,500 active duty troops are serving in New Orleans. The chaotic situation created by Mayor Nagin’s herding people into the Superdome, without adequate provisions for the long haul, with the resultant murder, rape, and looting a byproduct of poor, or non-existent, planning. Governor Blanco also deserves blame for not calling in the National Guard to get the situation in hand earlier. Now, 38,000 National Guardsmen are aiding the wider disaster area, including undertaking the police functions within New Orleans that Mayor Nagin could not or would not furnish.

With all these efforts going on, Jesse Jackson threw himself before the cameras yet again last week, claiming, “The president has not put together a federal program or a coordinated effort to address this massive crisis.”

Just prior to Jackson’s statement, Mayor Ray Nagin coped with the high pressure of the situation he created by launching into a profanity-laden radio interview with WWL-AM. He ranted that federal relief workers needed to “get off your asses.” (This at a time when helicopters bearing federal relief were being shot at by New Orleanians Nagin could not control.)

These are the same murderous looters the Democratic Party’s blog referred to as “the victims.” The only New Orleans residents not intimidated by the rampaging gangs of hoodlums have relied upon the only freedom that keeps law-abiding men safe: the right to privately own firearms.

The New Orleans debacle has demonstrated a few discomforting truths: there is apparently no national suffering so moving that the Left will not exploit it for crass political advantage. The nation should have learned this when Bill Clinton blamed the Oklahoma City Bombing on Rush Limbaugh and Republican “anti-government rhetoric.” More importantly, significant holes remain in our national infrastructure, which an enterprising terrorist cell could exploit. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the national security implications of mayoral elections in this nation’s vital cities. Their governance, so long dominated by corrupt and ineffectual leftists, has led to disaster on a massive scale. In the case of New Orleans, a plan had even been drawn up to fend off the worst…the mayor simply demurred from filling in its blanks. The tragedy filling our television screens for the last week is its result. Next time, the mourning could be caused by an act of war. At least one Bush critic, Rep. Bobby Jindahl, R-LA, is right: “After 9/11, this never should have happened.”

This story originally appeared as the lead story on Tuesday, September 6, 2005, on FrontPage Magazine.