Along with the trashed waterfronts, obliterated households, and flooded thoroughfares it left behind, Hurricane Katrina also managed to do some serious damage to reputations -- especially political ones. The world is familiar with the oh-so-public cashiering of former FEMA boss Michael Brown, whose mug ought to be used henceforth in the margin of one of those picture dictionaries to illustrate the word "scapegoat."
Yep, they did a heck of a job on Brownie. But he was no more negligent or ill-prepared or slow to respond to Katrina than his supervisors of record -- ranging from Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff to the commander in chief, George W. Bush, himself.
And, yes, the Democrats in the case -- notably New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco -- seem to have performed just as miserably and short-sightedly.
As we go to press, indications are that Hurricane Rita is en route to the same areas so recently afflicted. God only knows -- literally -- what the outcome will be of that. Only one thing is clear: Whether for political or other reasons, no machinery now exists -- four years after 9/11 and more than three years since the creation of the much-ballyhooed Department of Homeland Security -- that gives the nation any assurance that an appropriate response can be mounted to either a natural or a man-made disaster.
Predictably, politicians have proposed political solutions to the crisis. Last year's Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, weighed in this week with a typically ponderous and multi-pointed attack on the Bush administration -- one that, however sensible, would require a bulldozer to cut through the rhetoric and find the senator's concrete proposals.
We don't think the issue is all that abstruse, and neither does the last Democrat to have established a surefire connection to the American public, former President Bill Clinton. Breaking with his recent habit of making only polite, non-accusatory statements about the administration now in power, Clinton came forward this week with some statements that were simple and to the point.
Said Clinton about the debacle that saw thousands of hurricane victims stranded in flooded New Orleans: "You can't have an emergency plan that works if it only affects middle-class people up. When you tell people to go do something they don't have the means to do, you're going to leave the poor out."
Clinton continued: "It's like when they issued the evacuation order. That affects poor people differently. A lot of them in New Orleans didn't have cars. A lot of them ... had kinfolk they had to take care of."
And, finally, the former president said: "This a matter of public policy. And whether it's race-based or not, if you give your tax cuts to the rich and hope everything works out all right, and poverty goes up and it disproportionately affects black and brown people, that's a consequence of the action made."
We couldn't have said it better. Nor has anyone else.