"He is doing great. He has big broad shoulders."
That was First Lady Laura Bush's assessment of her husband and his handling of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and September 11. In her interview with NBC's Today, Bush went on to say that the people in Louisiana "are rebuilding their lives and other people want to help them."
She was a few miles from my house when she said these things. Her husband was hammering nails at our Habitat for Humanity headquarters in a photo op that even the insulated pod people in his inner circle should have told him to avoid. I listened to the radio this afternoon--all of New Orleans' radio stations are still broadcasting out of Baton Rouge under the United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans umbrella--and the usual conservative callers were enraged that Bush had made another trip to Louisiana to have dinner and engage in yet another shallow photo session. One of the hosts, not known for his liberal thinking or even for deep thinking, remarked that "if this is the compassionate conservative, I'd hate to see the mean-spirited jerk."
Over the last several years, Louisiana, formerly a solidly Democratic (moderate, of course) state, has become more and more conservative. The state went for Bush in 2000 and 2004. Today, though--at least in south Louisiana--there is agreement that the White House and the entire federal government let Louisiana down in the worst way. There are a few who want to blame Governor Blanco, Mayor Nagin, or Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard, but they are becoming a smaller and smaller minority.
As for people rebuilding their lives, thousands are not. They are in other states and will never come back. Many are still living in shelters; the luckier ones have moved into the few FEMA trailers we have seen. Untold numbers of people in New Orleans and surrounding parishes have lost their businesses, just like that. Thousands more have lost their jobs. Those who have returned to New Orleans cannot shop for supplies. There are no hospitals. There is no payroll for law enforcement officers. There is no public transportation. Hundreds of people are still unaccounted for. The tax base is nonexistent. And unlike other areas who have received large relief packets from the federal government, Louisiana has been told we will have to repay the money.
There is no way to really understand the devastation unless you live here. Pretending that Bush--a man so out of touch, one of his aides had to make him a DVD so he would have a clue about what happened when Katrina hit--is prepared to handle the tragedy that has befallen Louisiana is just adding insult to a region that has already suffered catastrophic injury.