Blood in the water

Posted: Sep 09, 2005 12:00 AM

The only ray of sunshine in the days following 9/11 was the magnificent unity displayed by Americans. Though the attack was brutal and numbing, our mutual support offered comfort. This time, the opposite is true of the political class (though ordinary people have been magnificent -- more on that in a minute). The long knives were unsheathed in record time.

 At the daily White House press briefings, Scott McClellan is barraged by reporters almost tipsy with that "blood in the water" intoxication they get when a Republican president is perceived to be in political difficulty. Never an edifying sight, it is particularly galling to witness now, when there is literal blood in the water of New Orleans. "Does the president have confidence in FEMA Director Brown?" "Does the White House feel like it missed opportunities to alleviate or head off some of the damage in the New Orleans area, flood damage?" "When was the president informed, warned by the National Hurricane Center or other agencies, that Katrina was a hurricane that could overtop the levees in New Orleans?" "Scott, you talk about looking ahead, and on that point, why should the American people have confidence?"

 Leading Democrats, clearly aroused by the possibility of post-Katrina political traction, are in full braying mode. "Oblivious, in denial, dangerous," pronounced House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi after the president rejected her recommendation to fire FEMA Director Michael Brown. Pelosi's outburst was supposedly provoked by the president's having asked "What didn't go right?" in New Orleans. But she is being disingenuous. The president had, days before, declared that the disaster relief effort was "unacceptable."

 Sen. Harry Reid, lacking Pelosi's instinct for the sound bite, was still able to question whether the president's vacation had anything to do with the federal government's response to the crisis. The Rev. Jesse Jackson demanded to know, according to the AP, "why Bush has not named blacks to top positions in the federal response to the disaster, particularly when the majority of victims remaining stranded in New Orleans are black: 'How can blacks be locked out of the leadership and trapped in the suffering?'"

 But the lowest bit of posturing came from DNC Chairman Howard Dean, who pronounced that "We must . . . come to grips with the ugly truth that skin color, age, and economics played a deadly role in who survived and who did not." Dean is up to the old Democratic game of race-baiting, insinuating that because poor people, most of them black, were hit hardest by Katrina, that the larger society somehow conspired with forces of nature to hurt them. If Howard Dean were to examine the causes of the Chicago fire, he would doubtless have concluded that Mrs. O'Leary's cow was a Republican.

 But Dean is not alone. Starlets, TV pontificators, and many others have begun murmuring that such a devastating disaster would not have been permitting to befall white victims. This is lunacy. In the first place, it has. White residents of the Gulf region got aid no faster than blacks. But second, the mayor of New Orleans, the first official with responsibility for preparing for and dealing with disaster in the city, is black. He would surely stand first on any list of those who let down the poor in this case.

 But for heaven's sake, why must we be drawing up such lists at all? The furious recriminations are injecting unnecessary bitterness into an already horrific time. There is another way to approach such a catastrophe -- and that is the way the rest of America has chosen. Every business, religious group, neighborhood association and Internet connection with which I am in touch is raising money for the victims of Katrina. The funds collected have already topped $500,000,000. Thousands of Americans are opening their homes as well as their wallets to those dispossessed by the floods. Schools in neighboring Texas, but also in states as far away as Massachusetts, D.C., and many others, are setting extra places for the children whose schools and homes have been destroyed.

 Here is an excerpt from an e-mail I got from Neighbors Helping Neighbors, a local e-mail group I belong to. Sharon Rainey, ragged from lack of sleep over the past several days of spontaneous volunteer work for hurricane victims, gave us an update:

 "On Saturday, Tracie Penschke has a friend who will drop off a 14-foot U-Haul truck and let us fill it for the day. Tracie's friend will then drive it down to Gulfport, MS. . . . We are in dire need of the following items for women: new underwear, new bras, new clothes, new socks, new pajamas, new robes. Over the counter medications. Water, Gatorade, baby food, baby formula, air mattresses, pull-up training pants, pony tail holders, eye drops, wheelchairs, walkers. We still need more strong boxes for packing. We are open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. I will keep you posted on the Saturday and Sunday hours . . . "

 That is how most of America is handling this catastrophe. The opportunists and professional partisans should observe and be humbled.