May 29, 2010

The right wing movement in all its forms (well, there really is only one at this point) has been trying to equate the BP oil spill catastrophe to Hurricane Katrina and President Bush's mishandling of it.

Kevin Drum dispatches that notion effortlessly:

This conflates two very different things. Katrina was an example of the type of disaster that the federal government is specifically tasked with handling. And for most of the 90s, it was very good at handling them. But when George Bush became president and Joe Allbaugh became director of FEMA, everything changed. Allbaugh neither knew nor cared about disaster preparedness. For ideological reasons, FEMA was downsized and much of its work outsourced. When Allbaugh left after less than two years on the job, he was replaced by the hapless Michael Brown and the agency was downgraded and broken up yet again. By the time Katrina hit, the upper levels of FEMA were populated largely with political appointees with no disaster preparedness experience and the agency was simply not up to the job of dealing with a huge storm anymore.

The Deepwater Horizon explosion is almost the exact opposite. There is no federal expertise in capping oil blowouts. There is no federal agency tasked specifically with repairing broken well pipes. There is no expectation that the federal government should be able to respond instantly to a disaster like this. There never has been. For better or worse, it's simply not something that's ever been considered the responsibility of the federal government.

FEMA's job was to handle disasters like Katrina, but Dan Bartlett had to make a DVD for Bush to watch because he didn't even know what every American knew as the tragedy was unfolding.

The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One. How this could be—how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness," as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century—is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace.

I take issue with how Axelrod and his team approached the spill because the president should have been out there sooner, but to draw a parallel to the Bush's Katrina disaster is completely ridiculous. The White House knew what was happening and didn't need a DVD of news reports made for them by Robert Gibbs to help alert them to the crisis. If conservative governance proved anything, it was that without competent oversight, regulations, and a willingness to then implement those tools, horrific things result.

I made the same argument to the very unstable Andrew Breitbart on last Friday's LA Weekly panel discussion, but he was too busy drinking beers on stage to engage in a real dialogue about anything other than the ACORN thugs who helped cause the global financial meltdown, as he phrased it.

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