After Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana on August 29, 2005 president George W. Bush was excoriated by the mainstream media for his lack of compassion as well as the racist undertones that ostensibly precipitated it. The media fanned the flames even hotter when Bush was photographed flying over New Orleans to survey the damage two days later. Hurricane Isaac struck Louisiana on August 29, 2012 inundating that state with up to 22 inches of rain. Yet President Obama waited until Monday, four days after disaster struck, to visit that state. Americans are still waiting for the Democratic president to get even a modicum of the same kind of criticism the media so willingly applied to the president Bush.
That is not to say no criticism at all was meted out. In a remarkable, albeit inadvertent testament to their own bias, several media outlets criticized Republican Mitt Romney for taking time from his campaign to visit Louisiana last Friday, one day after the GOP convention ended. The Washington Post ran a prominent story featuring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who recently accused Romney of being a tax cheat, absent a shred of evidence to back up his claims.
This time Romney is a hypocrite. “It is the height of hypocrisy for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to make a pretense of showing sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Isaac when their policies would leave those affected by this disaster stranded and on their own,” Reid said. “If Paul Ryan and his fellow House Republicans had succeeded in blocking disaster relief last fall, there would have been no aid for the victims of Isaac today. And Paul Ryan’s budget would gut disaster funding, making it much harder to get aid to our fellow Americans in their time of need,” he added.
That meme was picked up by the Huffington Post, which posted a bit more of Reid's outburst and its standardized Democratic talking points. "This is yet another example of Mitt Romney's extreme right wing agenda, which asks middle class families to sacrifice in order to protect millionaires and billionaires from paying their fair share," Reid said. The Daily Kos referred to Romney as the "Pretend President" and called his visit to the state "an odd and self-centered distraction," and a "photo-op" hiding the fact that Romney intends to give first responders a pink slip if he becomes president.
President Obama? "Obama has gone to great lengths to show that he is on top of the response to Isaac," reported Reuters. "He made several references to the storm in his campaign remarks this week and said he had been in contact with various federal agencies." For anyone inclined to check, the same thing could have been said about Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina. On August 27, 2005, two days before the storm hit, Bush was asked by then-Governor Kathleen Blanco to declare a state of emergency for the state of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina. Bush did so, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA "to coordinate all disaster relief efforts…" The former president also freed up federal money to assist the state.
According to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, the Obama administration's efforts to help his state fell short, failing to reimburse it for storm preparation costs. He took to Twitter to vent his frustrations, taking on FEMA and the Obama administration for their slow responses to Hurricane Isaac-related requests. Political payback? Possibly. But the same media that had a field day hammering the Bush administration for its own slow response to Katrina have avoided publicizing Jindal's remarks like the plague. Perhaps it is because Jindal, unlike former Gov. Blanco, was both proactive in his response to this storm--and a Republican.
Meanwhile the administration, seemingly unnerved by Mitt Romney's visit, attempted damage control, and the media was willing to take up their effort, absent a shred of skepticism. The San Francisco Chronicle published a piece in which White House spokesman Jay Carney claimed that Obama reached his own decision to visit Louisiana before Mitt Romney's intentions became known. Yet the paper also noted that the Obama campaign didn't announce its cancellation of a tour stop in Cleveland earlier Monday until Friday, only hours before Romney arrived. ABC News re-interated Carney's claim, even as it failed to mention the aforementioned cancellation.
Perhaps the best news here is that the president will actually make it to Louisiana at all. When flooding overwhelmed Tennessee in May of 2010, the president was missing in action, despite the fact that 31 people were killed in three states. The city of Nashville endured a flood that caused over a billion dollars in damage, making the crisis one of the most expensive natural disasters in American history--even as it was virtually ignored by the media. Nor did Obama bother to visit the areas of the South devastated by tornados in April of 2011, despite 45 people being killed, and scores of others being left injured and homeless. During that disaster, much likes this current one, the president was also campaigning -- when he wasn't golfing.
Most Americans won't remember those failures of leadership because the same hopelessly in-the-tank media that made the Katrina/Bush story an archetype for government failure can't possibly bring themselves to apply the same standard of criticism to this president. No doubt the current president will be hailed by that same media when he finally touches down in Louisiana. When one is a Democrat, "leading from behind" is perfectly acceptable.
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