If you need a Bush attack written and written fast, call on none other than Jennifer Loven of the AP. This story was up on the Washington Post's website, bias and all, by 10:10 p.m., just a spare 15 minutes after Bush's speech:
New Orleans is still a mess and the pace of recovery across the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina's strike remains achingly slow after 17 months. But none of this captured President Bush's attention on the year's biggest night for showcasing policy priorities.
In the president's State of the Union speech last year, delivered just five months after the disaster, the devastation merited only 156 words out of more than 5,400.
Mmmm, level-headed and dispassionate lede, Jen.
On Tuesday night, the president spoke for almost exactly as long before a joint session of Congress. But Katrina received not a single mention.
Another way to say "not a single mention" without sounding so much like a DNC press release is to say "no mention." Free editing. Don't mention it.
By contrast, in the days ahead of the president's address, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia compared the U.S. money being spent on Iraqi reconstruction with the fraction committed to the Gulf Coast rebuilding. And, chosen to give the Democratic response to Bush on Tuesday, Webb brought up the continuing struggle of Katrina victims right away, listing "restoring the vitality of New Orleans" just behind education and health care among his party's most pressing priorities, according to the text of his speech distributed in advance.
Skip, not to the administration's reaction to questions about Katrina's absence, but to the Democrats' conscientious and morally righteous concentration on the subject. Bonus points for getting in the Katrina vs. Iraq comparison. Howard Dean'll hire you yet, Loven.
The disaster did rate one representative with a good seat for Bush's speech.
Craig Cuccia, co-founder of Reconcile New Orleans, was one of two dozen guests seated in first lady Laura Bush's box above the House chamber. Cuccia's nonprofit youth organization helps get kids off the streets and into the hospitality industry by giving them jobs and training at its Cafe Reconcile located in Central City, one of New Orleans' toughest neighborhoods.
Spared Katrina's widespread flooding, the restaurant was among the city's first businesses to reopen its doors and served emergency workers, first responders, construction crews and returning residents.
Ahh, so you kinda fibbed a little bit. Katrina wasn't entirely absent from the event. You think maybe that should have been the fourth graph before you started fawning over Webb? Well, thanks anyway for giving the President some credit.
But Cuccia's presence at the State of the Union address had as much or more to do with Mrs. Bush's drive to help at-risk youth, particularly boys, stay out of gangs and other trouble. The first lady extended the invitation after meeting Cuccia on a visit to the cafe earlier this month.
Ohhh, credit revoked! Burn! It wasn't really about anything so altruistic as helping the victims of Katrina. It was about Laura Bush's attempts to help at-risk youth who also happen to be victims of Katrina. Yeah, I don't get it either.
Katrina's relative absence from the president's public radar screen is not new.
Uh-oh, time to bring up old stuff!
Seeking to recover from criticism of his initial reaction to the storm, the president focused intensively on the Gulf Coast in the weeks and months after Katrina hit. But that attention level quickly dropped off, and he hardly mentions the region now. His only visit there in the last eight months was to mark one year since the storm's strike in August.
He focused intensively for a while, but that wasn't good enough either because that was just him "seeking to recover from criticism."
"This anniversary is not an end. And so I come back to say that we will stand with the people of southern Louisiana and southern Mississippi until the job is done," he pledged then.
And, the last stab, with the old quote. Drive it in and twist, baby! That's some vindictive copy in just 10 minutes. Color me impressed. I imagine all of the money and programs the President "pledged then" are still working for the people of New Orleans, but that's not nearly as important as how many times he drops a name in a speech.
Unless, of course, he had dropped "Katrina" a couple times, and then the lede would have been, "Seeking to recover from criticism of his initial reaction to the storm, and attempting to avoid discussing the quagmire that is Iraq, the President mentioned the Gulf Coast recovery eight times in his speech tonight. The victims on the ground, however, say that despite Bush's words of solidarity, action is slower in coming."
Maybe Howard Dean will hire me. Or, the AP. The qualifications seem to be about the same.
On a more serious note, it was a little odd that Katrina didn't warrant a mention. Not nearly as dastardly as Loven thinks it is, but odd.
Loven flashback: Schooled by Karzai!