The Republicans are again playing politics with people’s lives as they did after 9/11. You remember George, Denny, Tom and Trent telling the American people that we don’t need such a commission because Congress can do its own investigation quite well, thank you? Then, you’ll recall Bush’s first proposed chairman of the Commission was that model of bipartisan probity (nudge, nudge), Henry Kissinger. Well, they’re pulling the same crap again. They’ve proposed what they call a “bipartisan” investigation in which Republicans would be the majority and hence control the agenda, investigation and concluding report. Their definition of “bipartisan” is a committee that includes Democrats (who would essentially be neutered).
I remember during college, reading about the heady days of “bipartisan” U.S. foreign policy in the 1950s when Republican senators like Arthur Vandenberg joined with Democrats in passing major legislation like the Marshall Plan, The Truman Doctrine and NATO. There was a sense then that foreign policy (or at least the most important elements of it) should be beyond partisanship. That was when the word “bipartisan” meant something. Those days, of course are long gone. Republicans nowadays are distorting the meaning of bipartisan in a way that Vandenberg (for whom Vandenberg Air Force Base is named) would not recognize.
Democrats are absolutely correct in refusing to play along with the Republican’s proposed charade. In fact, I think they have a golden issue which they should keep in the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. Bush is playing politics with people’s lives (both the Katrina’s victims and those of a future catastrophe). Quit it and get to work to make sure this can’t happen again. Or I should say–get to work so that when it does happen again you won’t be caught flatfooted. Democrats should tell Bush and the nation that there must be a Katrina Commission and it must be structured and staffed precisely the same way that the 9/11 Commission was in order to ensure that the advice and analysis given is credible, probing and untainted by partisanship.
Instead what do Republicans plan? To blame the Democrats (or the victims, or state and local government–anyone but themselves) for “not helping people in need” by refusing to jump on the Republican-led bandwagon for a partisan Katrina investigation.
The White House has sent delegates to meetings in Washington of outside Republican groups who have plans to blame the Democrats and state and local officials. In the meantime, it has no plans to push for a full-scale inquiry like the 9/11 commission, which Bush bitterly opposed until the pressure from Congress and surviving families made resistance futile. Congressional Democrats have said they are unwilling to settle for anything less than an outside panel, but White House officials said they do not intend to give in, and will portray Democrats as politicking if they do not accept a bipartisan panel proposed by Republican congressional leaders. Ken Mehlman, the party’s chairman and Bush’s campaign manager last year, told TIME that viewers at home will think it’s “kind of ghoulish, the extent to which you’ve got political leaders saying not ‘Let’s help the people in need’ but making snide comments about vacations.”
The Washington Post notes this communique from the Republican National Committee to its allies:
“It’s disappointing that while President Bush has focused his administration’s entire efforts towards saving lives and helping the victims of Katrina, there are those who are using this tragedy to score cheap political points.”
It’s utterly preposterous. And the Democrats shouldn’t wait for this attack. Every national leader should go on the hustings and declare that they will tie up Congressional business until Bush accedes to a nonpartisan Katrina Commission. They need to tell the American people that the lives of the hundreds of victims can only be honored by such a truly credible and non-political forum. Anything less would do their memories a disservice.
UPDATE: Congressional Democrats must’ve been thinking along the same lines as I because the NY Times reports today that Nancy Pelosi used the recent arrest of former Abramoff crony and OMB procurement chief, David Safavian, to reinforce the need for an independent Katrina inquiry. She said that Safavian is an example of the type of cronyism which inhibited the federal response to Katrina. Without a truly independent investigation, no similar monkey shines within FEMA or other agencies could be expected to come to light. The Post also quotes her at a joint press conference with Harry Reid saying:
“If we’re ever going to protect the American people, we must have an outside independent committee. Let’s not have a charade about oversight.”
In the days after 9/11, I remember reading an OpEd piece in the NY Times which faulted Bush for fetishizing the event by making it and national security the only issue on his agenda. The writer correctly noted that the U.S. was much more likely to suffer a natural disaster on the scale of 9/11 than a man-made one. He warned that by not focussing on such a prospect and instead focussing on a once in a lifetime event like 9/11, Bush was making a critical mistake. And Katrina has proven this writer right.
Why does this nation need a nonpartisan Katrina Commission modeled on the 9/11 Commission? To determine:
1. what went wrong and prevent it from happening again
2. what went right and ensure that it works the next time around as well
3. what policies or programs need to be adopted in order to prevent a similar disaster (non-) response the next time around
Just as a fer instance: shouldn’t it be a federal crime for anyone–but especially local police and government officials–to prevent disaster refugees under evacuation orders from evacuating a city? It is appalling that the police of Gretna, LA turned back hundreds of New Orleans refugees by threatening the use of deadly force (including actually shooting their guns over their heads) merely because they were afraid that African-Americans would maraud through their lily-white community.
It is even more appalling that the Gretna city council recently passed a resolution supporting their police chief’s actions. I’d prefer to see the police chief indicted by a federal prosecutor for interfering in a federally-mandated disaster evacuation.
Another fer instance: how about making major crimes of violence (murder, rape, assault against aid workers) perpetrated during a federally declared disaster a federal, instead of state or local crime? Let’s let the bad eggs know that it’s the feds who they’ll face after the disaster is over.