Monday, November 05, 2007

How Dare *Republicans* Use Katrina for Electoral Gold?

As the next election season begins unfolds and the primaries get into full swing, it is natural to begin the process of writing epitaphs on the previous administration. This must be done, if for no other reason, than so that other campaigns can compare and contrast their prospective agendas with those that came before them.

In the case of the Bush Administration Worst Administration in History, the all-too familiar adjectives have already become shopworn: "Incompetent." "Misguided." "Reckless." "Misleading." "Stubborn." We who pay attention and aren't afraid to tell the truth, on the other hand, know better: Bush is not incompetent; he is, in fact, criminally negligent and pathologically corrupt. It is old hat for progressives at this point to say that we must continue to emphasize this point< in any way we can to demonstrate that the problem with the last 8 years is not a Bush Administration problem, but a problem of Republican ideology.

The Mississippi governor's race has given us yet another opportunity to do just that, in association with the debacle that did more to undo the Bush Presidency than the Occupation of Iraq: the criminally negligent response to Hurricane Katrina.

One would think that the issue of Katrina would be a political poison pill to Republicans. Not so in Mississippi, however, where recovery efforts and disaster response times have been much faster than in New Orleans. In Mississippi, the L.A. Times reports that current Republican governor Haley Barbour is trying to ride the issue of Katrina to re-election:

Haley Barbour, who impressed many with his quick disaster response [to Katrina], now hopes to ride that popularity to a second term...

Barbour, a former lobbyist and chairman of the Republican National Committee, is riding high in Mississippi, where he is widely considered to be the front-runner in Tuesday's election. Campaign finance reports from October showed him with nearly $6 million in cash on hand, compared with $23,000 for his Democratic rival, John Eaves.

Not only is this GOP machine operative who worked for Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign seemingly destined to cruise to re-election as Mississippi's governor, he's being touted as prime vice-presidential material--especially by the likes of Rudy Giuliani. Apparently, Giuliani's decision to place emergency anti-terrorism essentials in the top terrorist target, to fail to integrate emergency responders' communication equipment, and failure to address the concerns of poisonous particulates at the Ground Zero site makes him a perfect comparison with a governor who had the good fortune to have Trent Lott's porch within his territory.

And why would a Republican operative who used fiscal mismanagement as an excuse to cut tens of thousands of poor and elderly from Medicaid have the gall to run on Katrina, even if his response were effective? Well, first there's the partisan Rovian corruption involving federalization that Michael "Brownie" Brown, former head of FEMA, enlightened us about:

Brown, speaking at the Metropolitan College of New York, said he had recommended to President Bush that all 90,000 square miles along the Gulf Coast affected by the devastating hurricane be federalized, a term Brown explained as placing the federal government in charge of all agencies responding to the disaster.

"Unbeknownst to me, certain people in the White House were thinking, 'We had to federalize Louisiana because she's a white, female Democratic governor, and we have a chance to rub her nose in it,'" he said, without naming names. "'We can't do it to Haley [Barbour] because Haley's a white male Republican governor. And we can't do a thing to him. So we're just gonna federalize Louisiana.'"

And then there's the less directly overt but still insanely corrupt issue of reconstruction efforts. If you're a Republican, a little open graft never hurts:

The governor's critics, however, contend that his post-storm success was due largely to his Republican friends in Washington. Blanco, who did not seek a second term, has even alleged a "political conspiracy" in which GOP leaders in Washington stiffed Louisiana while lavishing money on Barbour's state...

The governor's supporters said they saw Mississippi shine where Louisiana stumbled. For one thing, Mississippians got their housing recovery money quicker. By January 2007, more than 10,000 Mississippi homeowners had received federal rebuilding grants from the program administered by their state. In Louisiana, fewer than 300 had received their money. (Louisiana officials say the comparison is unfair. Congress began fully funding Mississippi's program six months before theirs; Louisiana has since paid out more than 67,000 grants.)...

Few doubt that Barbour's Washington contacts paid off for Mississippi, especially before Republicans lost control of Congress in 2006. Until then, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) had been chairman of the powerful appropriations committee...

By some measures, Mississippi received a disproportionate share of the federal aid for recovery from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. A study funded by the Rockefeller Institute of Government found that Mississippi had 20% of the major or severe housing damage, but got 33% of the Community Development Block Grant funds. Louisiana had 67% of the damage and received 62% of those funds.

So here's the story: while Bush strummed his guitar and shared birthday cake with John McCain during th, the male former RNC head of a Red State gets to run his own show, get federal monies and assistance far in advance, use his contacts to pull strings, and finds a way to get much more money compared to its needs. He strides ahead in the polls and is on his way to running for the seat currently occuppied by Darth Cheney. And the people couldn't be more thrilled:

Look, I hate lobbyists," said Janet Densmore, 59, a Democrat from the hard-hit coastal city of Waveland. "But I've got to say that in the post-Katrina world, his connections benefited us quite a bit." Densmore was living in a government-provided trailer until September, when she moved into a tiny prefab Katrina Cottage as part of a program that Barbour championed. "And I'm proud of him for it," she said.

Meanwhile, the female Democratic governor of a blue state gets her power removed, is left helpless, gets federal funds in delayed manner, and receives fewer funds overall than needed. She will face a difficult re-election battle.

That's not what you call "misguided", "stubborn", "clueless" or "incompetent." That's what you call "criminally corrupt."

At the very least, if a Republican is going to dare run on Katrina of all things on a local level, the Republican Party as a whole should pay a price on a national level. The public should be reminded of just how competent the Bush Administration is in bestowing political favors to its cronies and allies, while letting the rest of America eat cake.

And that, when all is said and done, from Blackwater to Barbour, should be the final epitaph of this horrid Administration.


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