As distasteful as it is to many Americans, the politics of
hurricane Katrina have rushed in to fill the agendas of elected
officials nearly as quickly as the floodwaters inundated New
For the Bush administration, the mantra this week became "no
blame-gaming, no finger-pointing" as it sought to recover from the
early perception of a slow response to the disaster. The message has
been that this is an administration of action, not partisan
bickering, and that the task at hand is to address the situation on
the ground. President Bush sent Congress a request for $51.8 billion
in additional hurricane aid. Vice President Dick Cheney and his
wife, Lynne, toured New Orleans and the Gulf region Thursday,
talking to local officials and first-responders.
In reality, hurricane Katrina has become an anti-9/11 of sorts.
Whereas four years ago people dropped their red and blue identities
to rally around their leaders, Katrina seems to have exacerbated the
extreme polarization of the Bush years. At his first Cabinet meeting
since returning from vacation, Mr. Bush declared he would oversee an
inquiry into the government response to Katrina, prompting an
immediate outcry from Democrats that the government cannot
Republicans in Congress quickly followed by announcing an
investigative commission on Katrina, with GOP members to form a
majority. Democrats cried foul, arguing that the model of the 9/11
commission - made up of nonlawmakers in a balance of Republicans and
Democrats, operating with a goal of consensus - would be preferable.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, widely seen as a leading
Democratic hopeful for president in 2008, emerged as a chief critic
of the Republicans' inquiry plan and of the performance of the
Federal Emergency Management Agency. Before Katrina, Senator Clinton
had lain low on national issues, focusing instead on reelection to
Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, also
came out with guns blazing this week. "We must ... come to terms
with the ugly truth that skin color, age, and economics played a
deadly role in who survived and who did not," he told the National
Baptist Convention of America on Wednesday.
"Politicization is very dangerous for both sides," says Marshall
Wittmann, a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council. "If
either party is seen as obstructing results, people will blame them.
Americans are pragmatic, not ideological or partisan. …