Was President Bush slow to react to Hurricane Katrina?
Conservative say no. But look past their endless criticisms of the Democratic governor and the Democratic mayor (who they forget was a Bush supporter in 2000). That’s just empty spin.
Let’s look at some actual facts.
The Daily Howler took a look at Bush’s timeline reacting to Katrina, and compared it with recent reactions from Bush, Clinton and George H.W. Bush.
Since it’s clear that Katrina is the worst hurricane in recent memory — in terms of physical damage and loss of life — one would assume that it would require the prompest reaction from the president. But that hasn’t been the case — and that’s why there’s been bipartisan disappointment. Conservatives, when they are done criticizing the Democrats of Louisiana for their failures, turn around and suggest it’s only “hate Bush” liberals angry with Bush. But that’s not the case.
So how have recent presidents reacted to massive natural disasters?
On Monday, when the hurricane hit, President Bush flew to Arizona and California to discuss Medicare. On Tuesday, the day the levee broke, Bush flew to San Diego to speak to World War II veterans. On Wednesday, he flew over New Orleans on way to a speech at the Rose Garden. On Thursday he made comments on ABC’s Good Morning America. On Friday, as the federal response reached the Gulf Coast, so did Bush.
So, if you’re scoring at home, that’s four days from impact to the point when the “cavalry” arrived — cowboy president included.
Now, let’s go into the wayback machine and look at what other presidents did — most often, with storms that were not as destructive as Katrina.
Hurricane Andrew (1992): A Category 5 hurricane, “Hurricane Andrew slammed into Southern Florida 13 years ago this week, leaving behind more than $30 million in damage, 100,000 people homeless, and more than a dozen dead,” said NBC’s Stone Phillips, in a report aired in 2002.
So, how quickly did the federal government, under George H.W. Bush, react?
From the NBC report: “Perhaps most surprisingly, in the first three days after Andrew, there was little outside help coming into South Florida, no federal cavalry riding over the hill. Local governments and charities were scrambling to do what they could. … But on Day 4, August 28th, outside help finally arrived: federal troops. Twenty thousand National Guard, Army and Marine Corps troops poured into South Florida. They restored order, set up field kitchens to feed the hungry, built tent cities to house the homeless, and helicoptered supplies to victims in remote areas.”
So the federal government under George H.W. Bush reacted much the same as the federal government under George W. Bush — ironically both dealing with Category 5 hurricanes.
Now, compare that with the federal response to lesser hurricanes, under President Clinton’s watch:
Hurricane Bertha (1996): A Category 2 hurricane nowhere near the scale of Katrina. But how did President Clinton respond?
– An estimated 500,000 people were ordered to evacuate six north Florida counties. About 50,000 were asked to get off Hatteras and Ocracoke islands on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. And officials urged the evacuation of parts of two South Carolina counties with 380,000 residents.
—Clinton canceled appearances in Orlando and Tampa.
Hurricane Floyd (1999): In anticipation of the hurricane striking the Southeast, Clinton cut short a trip to New Zealand, where he was attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, and skipped a one-day rest in Hawaii, to arrive back in Washington within 24 hours of when Floyd hit.
Originally a Category 4 hurricane, by the time Floyd reached North Carolina, it had been reduced to Category 2. But as with Katrina, it flooded major highways, creating logistical nightmares for emergency personnel. People ignored evacuation orders and were left stranded on rooftops.
Clinton arrived on Monday, Sept. 19, four days after Floyd damaged North Carolina and Virginia. But no one complained, because, as CNN reported: “The Federal Emergency Management Agency, criticized for incompetence during the Reagan and Bush administrations, has been more recently hailed as a success story.”
In other words, dealing with lesser hurricanes, Clinton acted more swiftly, apparently with better planning and a stronger response from FEMA.
Of course, the hurricanes are not comparable. And sadly, neither are the federal responses. Conservatives want to spin President Bush’s response time — but a simple recitation of the facts speaks volumes.
This article first appeared at Journalists Against Bush’s B.S.