On anniversary of Katrina, former Bush aides revise history

This week marked the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The occasion has inspired retrospectives about the storm and updates on the current state of New Orleans, as all anniversaries are wont to do these days. Many of these pieces have been thought-provoking and insightful. The piece by former Bush aide Jason Recher isn’t. At all.

Recher, writing for Fox News (of course), argues that one man can take a lot of the credit for New Orleans’s recovery from Katrina: President George W. Bush. Not only did the federal aid approved by Bush jumpstart the city’s growth post-Katrina, he writes, but the generous President even deigned to grace the city with his healing presence. As Recher writes:

Damage from Hurricane Katrina, via Wikimedia Commons

Damage from Hurricane Katrina, via Wikimedia Commons

At Bush’s urging, Congress passed a package of $52 billion in aid to help rebuild and recover the estimated $108 billion lost to the storm. The Bushes, who had a deep love for and connection to New Orleans prior to Katrina, personally visited the Gulf region 41 times with their sleeves rolled up, grabbing hammers and lending hands to rebuilding efforts.

In 2008, the Presidential Debate Commission rejected New Orleans as a host city over false fears the hospitality industry lacked capacity. President Bush one-upped them. He decided to host the final international summit of his administration in New Orleans – inviting the leaders of Mexico and Canada, along with the international media, to town for financial negations, a jazz second line and a visit to Treme’s Dooky Chase for heaping bowls of Chef Leah’s gumbo.

While Bush certainly did make a good show of caring about New Orleans after the storm, that’s where Recher’s analysis begins: after the storm. As Clover Hope notes in Jezebel, New Orleans’s population would not have been so devastated had President Bush acted so presidential before the storm hit in the first place.

Former FEMA chief and perpetual Katrina scapegoat Michael Brown outlines the inadequacy of the federal government’s reaction to the storm in a piece published in Politico yesterday. In it, he writes that Bush was given an opportunity to announce a federally-enforced mandatory evacuation notice with plenty of time to get people out safely. Instead of doing that, Bush left the decision to local authorities, who bungled the storm response disastrously. According to Brown:

By the time federalization was seriously considered, the biggest mistake had already been made: evacuation began too late. And even if FEMA had been given the power to order citizens out of New Orleans days earlier, it didn’t own the helicopters, military transport planes and amphibious armored personnel carriers necessary to carry out the evacuation of a major American city.

The delayed governmental response to Katrina probably cost thousands of people their lives. While Bush was only one of the many powerful figures who contributed to the government’s inaction, his personal failure to act was catastrophic. And although the aid Bush pushed for might have helped rebuild New Orleans, the post-Katrina city is a city that has left many of its old residents behind, replacing poor black families with white yuppies.

Hurricane Katrina was the beginning of the end of President Bush’s presidency for a reason. His failure to act like a president, and to appreciate the danger New Orleans’s citizens were in, directly contributed to the deaths of nearly 2,000 people. No amount of gumbo eaten after the fact can change that.

Madison Smith is a freelancer based in Montreal and Philadelphia. He's a recent graduate of Mcgill University with a bachelor's in Political Science. When he's not railing against right-wing injustices online, you can find him singing about them on tour with his band.

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