The 9/11 of New Orleans

A national disaster gives a struggling president another chance to make his mark.


T.g.
August 31, 2005 9:41PM (UTC)

Is Hurricane Katrina the new 9/11?

The death toll almost certainly won't approach 9/11 numbers, but the insurance industry says the financial losses could come close. Americans in Kansas and California aren't feeling the same sort of "we could be next" vulnerability they did on that Tuesday morning four years ago -- and this isn't the first hurricane to strike the homeland -- but there's at least some sense that the country is sharing the pain of a national tragedy again. The editorial writers at the New York Times see the pictures from Louisiana and can't help thinking of "the time after 9/11, when the rest of the nation made it clear that our city was their city, and that everyone was part of the battle to restore it."

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A little less poetically, Aaron Brooks, the quarterback of the displaced New Orleans Saints, says: "It's not a 9/11 deal, but it has the feeling of it."

That's certainly what they're hoping over at the White House. The attacks of 9/11 were very, very good for George W. Bush. His job approval ratings were sliding amid the sour economy in the weeks before the attacks, but Americans rallied around their president in the days and months afterward. Bush was able to use 9/11 to sell a war and hide the effect of his tax cuts, and he rode the often-invoked memories of 9/11 to reelection in November.

So Bush heads back to Washington today -- and soon, to the scene of the disaster in Louisiana -- but for what? What can Bush do for the people of New Orleans that isn't being done already? What can he do that he couldn't do in Crawford? Scott McClellan didn't have much of an answer yesterday. Throughout the president's vacation -- as American soldiers were killed and political progress faltered in Iraq -- the White House insisted that Bush had all the powers of the modern presidency in his command down in Crawford. So why does Bush have to return to Washington now? Isn't it just symbolic, like standing on that firetruck and shouting in a bullhorn after 9/11?

"No, I think -- no, I disagree," McClellan said yesterday. "Like I said, this is one of the most devastating storms in our nation's history, and the president, after receiving a further update this morning, made the decision that he wanted to get back to D.C. and oversee the response efforts from there." Pressed on what Bush could do in Washington that he couldn't do in Crawford, McClellan said: "We'll talk to you all later. We've got to go. Thank you."


T.g.

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