By Robert, Sam and Nat Parry
August 29, 2007
Editor’s Note: Two years ago this week, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the great American city of New Orleans and killed some 1,800 people along the Gulf Coast. With that tragedy, however, came a belated public awakening about how George W. Bush had put cronyism, ideology and partisanship ahead of competence, national unity and accountability.
In this excerpt from our new book, Neck Deep, that national turning point is recalled:
On Aug. 27, 2005, as a powerful hurricane named Katrina surged through the Gulf of Mexico and took aim at New Orleans, most Americans still had confidence in their government’s ability to respond to crises and natural disasters with efficiency and speed.
The country prided itself on its ability to rescue people in danger, to dispatch resources, to rebuild after the worst was over.
Many Americans considered the United States unparalleled in its ability to fly disaster specialists to the far corners of the globe when catastrophe struck, to oversee the delivery of food, water, medicines and other necessities. It was part of America’s can-do spirit; it was part of the national self-image.
There was also a belief that technology had gone a long way in taming the threats of nature, that the types of disasters that had plagued the country in its earlier days were like yellowed newspaper articles. They were tales from grandparents, like the stories of World War II or the Great Depression, mildly interesting but no longer very relevant.
Modern catastrophes – at least as they affected most Americans – were confined to Hollywood disaster movies with big-budget special effects that brought the audience right into the middle of the danger but without any real threat of harm.
That was the frame of reference for many Americans as they concentrated on the news of Katrina’s approach to New Orleans. There was a fascination with the possibility of danger; there was awareness that many experts warned about flood waters breaching the levees and inundating the low-lying city; but there were few expectations that those alarms would prove true or that serious harm would befall New Orleans.
On another long vacation in Crawford, Texas, President Bush treated the gathering threat to New Orleans in a similar vein. He responded to the alarm among government weather experts with little more than cheerleading, praise for and confidence in the federal, state and local officials on the front lines.
Like many Americans watching on TV, Bush acted like a spectator expecting whatever damage did occur would be neatly cleared away and everything would quickly be put back in order.
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