Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Senator Landrieu is part of the problem

Monday night's Daily Show highlighted comments that Senator Mary Landrieu (Democrat from Louisiana) made over in the last week regarding the blame for the inept, inadequate, and untimely response to Hurricane Katrina.

I intend to find out why the federal response, particularly the response of FEMA, was so incompetent and insulting to the people of our states. ... They gambled that no one would notice if Louisiana's critical and vital role in our national economy was threatened, and Washington rolled the dice, and Louisiana lost. — Sen. Mary Landrieu, on the floor of the United States Senate last week

Now is not the time for finger-pointing. ... [New Orleans] Mayor [Ray] Nagin and most mayors in this country have a hard time getting their people to work on a sunny day, much less getting them out of the city in front of a hurricane. — Sen. Mary Landrieu, on Fox News, 2005-09-11
It is absolutely true that FEMA's response was incompetent and insulting to the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. However, that point gets lost, not highlighted, by trying to sweep under the rug the responsibility that state and local officials share for the failures in preparing for and responding to the hurricane.

Americans must hold President Bush accountable for putting an unqualified person in charge of FEMA, and for leaving him in place for far too long. However, Americans, and especially Louisianians and New Orlinians, must also hold people like Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin accountable for the mistakes they made. The fact that FEMA was missing in action does not excuse the fact that the state and local governments also did too little, too late.

We've known for years that New Orleans would be submerged by a serious hurricane, and that the result would be that the city would be uninhabitable for months. Armed with that knowledge, the Congress should have given the Army Corps of Engineers the funding to improve the levees and repair the coastal wetlands. However, armed with that same knowledge, the city, the parish, and the state should have had emergency evacuation plans in place, ready to be put in motion. At the least, every person willing to evacuate should have had the means available to do so, and the fact that the means were scarce represents a failure at the local level.

It is FEMA's fault that thousands of people went for days without food and water at the Superdome and at the Convention Center. However, it is Mayor Nagin's fault and Governor Blanco's fault, and probably also the fault of whoever is in charge of Orleans Parish [equivalent to county government in most states], that there were so many people left with no other option.

The Democratic Party has much to gain by pressing for full accountability, but that principle must not be applied only to Republicans. For the sake of the American people, we must press for full accountability of all parties in this mess.

Why did it take FEMA so long to arrive in New Orleans? Why was FEMA so out of touch with the reality on the ground, even days after it arrived? Why did President Bush and Vice President Cheney continue on their vacations while thousands of people suffered needlessly? Why were dozens of school buses left to swim in the rising flood waters instead of being driven to safety, full of evacuees? Why did New Orleans not have an evacuation plan already in place for such an obvious potential calamity? Why did the State of Louisiana do so little to step into the breach left by the failures at the local and federal levels? ALL of these questions deserve answers, and soon.