Instead, the White House organized a PR effort directed by political adviser Karl Rove, master of political attack-machine tactics. The New York Times reported Monday that the administration, alarmed at the potential political fallout of its poor performance, regrouped over the weekend and mapped out its strategy. The plan has rolled out exactly as the Times' report said it would:
Administration officials appearing in public have downplayed the need to quickly assess failures, and have tried instead to discuss what's being done now. To the extent that they -- and allies who appear or write in their stead -- do discuss failures, it is to point the finger at local and state officials or "bureaucrats." Officials doing just that include Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, whose accountability is right up there with FEMA director Michael Brown's.
These tactics are beyond outrageous. No state, no locality can take the lead in dealing with an emergency like Katrina. That's why FEMA was created. That is why Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency on Friday, Aug. 26, when Katrina was a Category 2 hurricane. It is why the Gulf Coast states requested help from the Pentagon that same day.
Exactly what went wrong, in both the planning and the response, must be assessed in short order. The ability of the United States to prepare for and respond to disaster -- whatever the origin -- is vital to its security. No less, it is critical to America's ability to honor its shared values, which include attending to the poor, the sick, the vulnerable -- the very people who suffered most from the government's incompetence last week. Yet the White House delays the reckoning while pointing fingers at others.
Incompetence is bad enough; not taking responsibility for it is shameful. Blaming it on others is a national disgrace.