How do you govern a country (and prosecute a costly foreign war) when the complacency and incompetence of your administration has just caused thousands of your citizens to be drowned? God knows.
The British media’s almost gleeful schadenfreude over Katrina’s aftermath makes me sick (they love it: incompetence, anarchy, overflowing toilets, race fear, natural disaster. What a combination!) but I’m sure that America, now, in the recovery phase of this catastrophe, will shine. Americans are good at rebuilding and they will, I’m just as sure, do so thoroughly, even-handedly and with the kind of generosity that shames miserable Euro-gloaters (can you imagine mean, introverted British communities taking on tens of thousands of refugees in the big-hearted way the people of 19 American States have?). New Orleans, Biloxi and the whole benighted coast will probably come out of this horror stronger than they went in.
The damage, though, is done. Katrina – not the police or FEMA or the State Government – singled out the poor for misery last week and that produced the political catastrophe Katrina is becoming for George W because it made visible America’s barely-suppressed racial hang-ups. We’re learning that, in the evacuation phase, no special provision was made for the poor, for the old or the ill. A mandatory evacuation order was issued but nothing was done to ensure that those without cars or places to go or frequent flyer miles were actually removed. Result: thousands (thousands!) of dead poor people and second-term meltdown for the administration.
Katrina may have produced the conditions for this political crisis but hapless Bush will inevitably pay the price. Can he really, once the bodies start to pile up in the region’s morgues, escape the consequences of such epic neglect? I suspect the answer is ‘no’.