In the first days after Hurricane Katrina -- as it became clear that the emergency response was so much less than the crisis required -- many of the nation's elected officials were either silent or sanguine. When Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu went on CNN to thank her colleagues in government for all that they were doing, Anderson Cooper had to cut her off and tell her -- in words that are still shocking two days later -- just how out of touch she was.
That has finally changed. President Bush may say he's "satisfied" with the government's response if not the results, but it's hard to find anyone -- in either party -- who is ready to agree with him. Although the president ordered 7,000 more active-duty troops to the Gulf Coast today, David Vitter, a Republican senator from Louisiana, said he'd give the federal government an "F" for its response so far. Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine, said there had been "an immense failure" in the government's response. Majority Leader Bill Frist, another Republican, vowed to hold hearings to examine the government's response.
And Newt Gingrich, a Republican who isn't in office now but would like to be, said: "As a test of the homeland security system, this was a failure. It's important for the president to lead the nation in saying -- and he has already said -- that this is unacceptable. This is not a moment to defend inadequacy. It's a moment to respond very aggressively to human suffering and establish a vision of a more secure, more prosperous Gulf Coast."
The Democratic response was initially timid, lagging behind -- as it has on Iraq -- much of the party's base and much of the public at large. There was Landrieu on Thursday, and on Friday House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was still saying that it isn't time to "review what is preventable, what was predictable." But there was also Rep. Elijah Cummings, the former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, who said Friday: "We cannot allow it to be said that the difference between those who lived and those who died" amounted to "nothing more than poverty, age or skin color."
In a statement on his Web site, John Kerry urged Americans to come together, but he also said that there is "no question that we share a collective anguish and frustration over the inadequate response of the federal government over these past several days." He said that Americans "cannot and must not give up on the people left stranded and destitute by this storm."
On the "NewsHour" last night, Tom Oliphant said that Katrina has forced us all to "see with our own eyes the 'two Americas' of which John Edwards began speaking a year and a half ago." In an e-mail to supporters Friday, Edwards struck exactly that theme: "There are immediate needs in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and the first priority is meeting those," he wrote. "But after that, we need to think about the American community, about the one America we think we are, the one we talk about. We need people to feel more than sympathy with the victims, we need them to feel empathy with our national community that includes the poor. We have missed opportunities to make certain that all Americans would be more than huddled masses. We have been too slow to act in the face of the misery of our brothers and sisters. This is an ugly and horrifying wake-up call to America. Let us pray we answer this call."