Paul Greenberg

The director -- S. Elizabeth Birnbaum. Esq. -- left "on her own volition," announced Ken Salazar, who is still secretary of the Interior. Is it only the lower-downs in this administration who have enough shame to submit their resignation when things go terribly wrong on their watch? Who knows? Not the president. When asked about it, he said he'd just heard about the resignation that day, and didn't "know the circumstances in which this occurred." That was just after he'd got through explaining yet again how on top of things he's been.

So whom are you going to believe, the president's description of this administration as responsive and fast-acting, moving urgently to contain the catastrophe, or your own lying eyes?

Down in Louisiana, the Cajun Cato himself, James Carville, sounded less like the defender of the administration he's consistently been and more like another worried, frustrated and impatient Louisianan. The president, he complained, "just looks like he's not involved in this. Man, you got to get down here and take control of this and put somebody in charge of this thing and get this thing moving. We're about to die down here."

The moral of this story: When it's your own shoreline that's in danger, it kind of changes your perspective. It gives you, in the words of that scholarly work of political science, "A Boy Named Sue," a different point of view. (Cash, J.) That's when politics stops being some kind of abstract, spectator sport and becomes a matter of life and death. Mr. Carville has started sounding like Randy Newman singing the Looziana Blues: "Louisiana, Louisiana, they're tryin' to wash us away...." Again. In oil this time.

Last time, it was Katrina. By the time George W. Bush finally jettisoned his flood czar, Michael "Brownie, you're doin' a heckuva job" Brown, much of the damage -- human and political -- had been done. In the end, having to work with a bumbling governor and an equally inept but raging mayor of New Orleans, that president tried to muddle through -- and failed miserably. Finally, much too late, he found his can-do man in Lieut. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, U.S.A., a commander even Ragin' Ray Nagin, aforesaid joker of a mayor, had to approve of.

As soon as the Creole Napoleon landed, he could be seen all over the streets of the flooded city barking orders at mere colonels. Or as Mayor Nagin had to admit: "Now, I will tell you this -- and I give the president some credit on this -- he sent one John Wayne dude down here that can get some stuff done, and his name is Gen. Honoré. And he came off the doggone chopper, and he started cussin' and people started movin'. And he's getting some stuff done."

But where is this president's General Honoré? Happily, Louisiana now has a governor who actually seems to know his business -- Bobby Jindal -- but the feds keep dragging their feet whenever he makes recommendations. Such as: Quick, build barrier islands. (And send the bill to BP.) Quick, get out of the way and let city and parish officials protect their people and resources. Quick, get Louisiana more booms to ward off the approaching tide of gunk before the Gulf Coast starts to look like one big used oil filter.

The last president we had was done in by a natural disaster; this one could be done in by an unnatural one. One president demonized by his kneejerk critics was enough. Please, not again. Barack Obama needs to find his General Honoré in a hurry. Wouldn't it be something if he chose this young, energetic, proven governor to lead the charge? Even if Bobby Jindal is a Republican. At last Barack Obama would begin to carry out his promise to be a leader who can work across party lines to get things done. And, boy, does something need to get done. Like yesterday. No, last month. 'Cause they're washing Louisiana away again. And ain't nobody in charge.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.