George W. Bush gave one of
the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of
national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what
seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later
than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for
an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and
blankets delivered to the stricken GulfCoast. He advised the
public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised
that everything would work out in the end.
will, of course, endure, and the city of New
Orleans must come back. But looking at the pictures on
television yesterday of a place abandoned to the forces of flood, fire and
looting, it was hard not to wonder exactly how that is going to come to pass.
Right now, hundreds of thousands of American refugees need our national concern
and care. Thousands of people still need to be rescued from imminent peril.
Public health threats must be controlled in New Orleans
and throughout southern Mississippi.
Drivers must be given confidence that gasoline will be available, and
profiteering must be brought under control at a moment when television has been
showing long lines at some pumps and spot prices approaching $4 a gallon have
Sacrifices may be necessary
to make sure that all these things happen in an orderly, efficient way. But
this administration has never been one to counsel sacrifice. And nothing about
the president's demeanor yesterday - which seemed casual to the point of
carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis.
While our attention must now
be on the GulfCoast's
most immediate needs, the nation will soon ask why New Orleans's levees remained so inadequate.
Publications from the local newspaper to National Geographic have fulminated
about the bad state of flood protection in this beloved city, which is below
sea level. Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier
islands that could have held back the hurricane's surge? Why was Congress, before
it wandered off to vacation, engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some
of the gaping holes in the area's flood protection?
It would be some comfort to
think that, as Mr. Bush cheerily announced, America "will be a stronger
place" for enduring this crisis. Complacency will no longer suffice,
especially if experts are right in warning that global warming may increase the
intensity of future hurricanes. But since this administration won't acknowledge
that global warming exists, the chances of leadership seem minimal.