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Riding on the City of New Orleans

Riding on the City of New Orleans:Three days after Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast, bloggers are back to playing political hardball—and some conservatives are swinging for the other team. Of most interest are Bush’s attitude toward FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers, and his public handling of the disaster.

“I’m not inclined to view the ongoing nightmare on the Gulf Coast through the prism of politics,” writes Ed Kilgore of the Democratic Leadership Council at progressive salon TPMCafe, “but there’s one issue that cannot be avoided: questions about the competence of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, an entity that has clearly suffered from a major de-emphasis in its primary mission during the Bush administration, after achieving a real reputation for competence under Clinton’s appointee James Lee Whitt.” (Political Animal Kevin Drum outlines the recent history of FEMA here; Internet tabloid Sploid already smells a FEMA scandal.)

At Talking Points Memo, scrupulous liberal Joshua Micah Marshall points to the forced resignation, in 2002, of former Mississippi Republican Rep. Michael Parker as head of the Army Corps of Engineers, for criticizing administration cuts to hurricane preparation and flood control. Marshall suggests Bush prioritized loyalty over what now appears to be responsible policy. “In any case,” he writes, “we can understand the magnitude of this event and hold the administration to account for its lack of preparation. One doesn’t cancel out the other, as much as the president and his defenders might want them to.”

In a media appearance some see as echoing his widely criticized response in the early hours of Sept. 11, President Bush told Good Morning America viewers, “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.” 

“I swear, this is the Bush administration in a microcosm,” says the Washington Monthly’s stalwart Political Animal Kevin Drum. “Everyone was anticipating a breach of the levees before Katrina hit. … Does Bush genuinely not know this? Or is he just so comfortable lying about stuff like this that he doesn’t give it a second thought? And which is worse?” At the National Review Online, a Corner reader says the president’s difficulty shows the inability of conservatives to emote. “Emoting would be good,” replies contributor Rich Lowry. “But a real sense of being in charge and getting it would have been even better.”

“Bush blew this first one big time, and needs to be prodded to improve, not apologized for,” writes staunch Corner conservative John Podhoretz. “Look, it’s not too much to say that the continued viability of his presidency resides in how he and the administration respond in the next week.” At PowerLine, conservative lawyer John Hinderaker defends Bush. “I’m frankly left speechless at efforts by various liberals and media personalities,” he says, “to blame the Bush administration for the fact that conditions are tough in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It’s hard for me to believe that many people would take this kind of cheap shot seriously.”

Others ask questions that dwarf partisan politics. “Should New Orleans be rebuilt? Or how much of it should be?” asks critic Jeff Jarvis in a provocative post at BuzzMachine (Pundita has a similar thought). “Having visited the city often in my last job, I was always struck by its poverty and its lack of a workable economy,” writes Jarvis. “I’m not suggesting that what’s left of New Orleans should be bulldozed and abandoned. But I will suggest that, indeed, the city may need to be reinvented.”

Plenty rush to comment at BuzzMachine. “Chicago was rebuilt after the great fire. San Francisco was rebuilt after the great earthquake,” recalls Dennis Mosher. “The rebuilt New Orleans will be a big improvement over the old version — as were Chicago & SF. Just keep Bourbon St. the way it is.” Reader DB thinks the city is an ecological lost cause. “It’s insane to flush more money into this bowl of futility,” he writes. Others make an ethico-patriotic, rather than economic, case, that the country would be poorer culturally without the Big Easy. “By all means rebuild it!” writes Chris Barsanti of Vast Wasteland. “The fact that it makes no sense is one of its greatest attractions — and unlike other cities that make absolutely no sense (LA, Phoenix), this one actually has a soul.”

Confederate Yankee Bob Owens is a rare voice on the other side of the ledger. “To paraphrase, rebuilding the same city in the same spot and expecting a different result is the definition of what?” he asks.

“Only a Yankee could ask the question,” admonishesThe Fat Guy, a Texan. “Now if the question is, should it be rebuilt 100% with 100% federal tax dollars, that’s valid. But like some say, let’s block the breeches, put out the fires and bury the dead before the question even gets asked.” 

House Speaker Dennis Hastert earned the wrath of some locals by commenting on just that question. “It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed,” he said, though his press secretary later backtracked.

“Dennis Hastert, please sit down and shut the f–k up,” scolds Joe B. at the New Orleans Metroblog. “To clarify: if you’re an associate of Dennis Hastert under seven feet of investigators [like Tom Delay], he will do everything in his power to help you. But, if you’re seven feet below sea level, you’re s–t out of luck.” Ernie the Attorney, another local, regards the future of the city with some trepidation. “I’m pretty sure that this disaster is going to create a huge fork in the road for many of us, and that many people will choose to create a new life outside of New Orleans.”

Despite the bickering, bloggers have united to aid flood relief. The Truth Laid Bear organized Thursday’s “blog relief day,” directing readers to charitable organizations. At InstaPundit, Glenn Reynolds provides a thorough roundup of participating bloggers alongside their preferred charities.

Read Slate’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina here, and more blog posts about the disaster here. Read more about FEMA, more about flood relief, and more about New Orleans.