On the day before the State of the Union address, Senator James Webb said, "If we're putting all of this money into Iraq and ignoring New Orleans, then we're doing something wrong." He suggested that the city had "kind of fallen off the national radar screen over the last year."
Yesterday, as if to prove the Senator's point, President Bush delivered a 5,600-word speech without a single mention of the Gulf Coast recovery. In his last State of the Union address, just five months after what Senator Edward Kennedy described as "a disaster of biblical proportions," Bush devoted all of 156 words to the unprecedented devastation and tragic non-response.
The President's disconnect from the Gulf Coast plight brings to mind the words of one Congressman who said in the days following the disaster, "Indifference is a weapon of mass destruction." It's also consistent with a Bush administration that columnist Paul Krugman described as having "an ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good." In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, Krugman wrote, "I don't think this is a simple tale of incompetence…. At a fundamental level, I'd argue, our current leaders just aren't serious about some of the essential functions of government. They like waging war, but they don't like providing security, rescuing those in need or spending on preventive measures. And they never, ever ask for shared sacrifice."
Imagine how different things might be if – at this moment – our president were sending 20,000 civilian workers into New Orleans instead of 20,000 more soldiers into Iraq. A Reconstruction Surge instead of a War Escalation Surge.
But the reality is that we are now spending $8.4 billion per month in Iraq, while in Louisiana, as Senator Mary Landrieu noted, "We still have over a quarter a million people not back in permanent housing. We have major infrastructure projects that will have to be complete. We have a school system to rebuild, a health care system to rebuild and still more work to do on securing the energy infrastructure for the Gulf Coast."
What this nation needed when the hurricanes hit – and needs today even more – is a President who doesn't avoid facing our greatest challenges and tragedies, but leads our government to address them head-on.