"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

Whom to blame for what
Rutland Herald
Peter S. Canellos
Whom to blame for what
September 14, 2005

WASHINGTON — Many Democrats regard Hurricane Katrina as a political earthquake, an event destined to shake the Bush administration to its core, weakening the president's ability to promote his domestic agenda, and perhaps even prompting a reassessment of President Bush's character and abilities.

But the first round of public opinion polls detected a political tremor, not an earthquake.

Most voters said they believed Bush could have done more to help victims, but the damage to the president's reputation does not seem to be as severe as some of his critics have said. Indeed, some polls show that the hurricane has been a distraction from the longer-term issues plaguing Bush — principally the war in Iraq.

In other words, Bush may be weakened, and his agenda may be in trouble, but it's not just because of his handling of the hurricane.

And Democrats, who are already rushing to use the hurricane to promote their own priorities — from defeating the Supreme Court nominee, John G. Roberts Jr., to modifying the tough new bankruptcy law — might do just as well to focus on other issues.

An AP-Ipsos poll conducted from Sept. 6 to Sept. 8, more than a week after the hurricane, found that Bush's approval ratings had dropped to a weak 39 percent, from 42 percent in August.

But the percentage of Americans approving of Bush's performance on the hurricane — 46 percent — was much higher than the 37 percent approving of his handling of Iraq. More people approved of Bush's efforts on the hurricane than of his work on the economy, health care, foreign policy, Social Security, or gas prices.

A Gallup poll conducted last week for CNN and USA Today was consistent with the AP-Ipsos findings. It found that almost twice as many Americans (25 percent) had blamed state and local officials for problems with hurricane relief than had blamed Bush (13 percent). The largest percentage, 38 percent, held no one responsible for the relief crisis.

However, a Pew Research Center poll asked the question in different terms last week, and found that a whopping 67 percent thought Bush could have done more to help the hurricane victims, even though some state and local officials shared the blame.

The key for Bush, said Pew Research Center director Andrew Kohut, will be whether perceptions of an inadequate response to the hurricane alter the way people view Bush — less firm in a crisis.

"Not all of Bush's problems reside with Katrina, but he's been roundly criticized for the way he's handled the hurricane," said Kohut.

Bush is working hard to counter the perception that he hasn't paid enough attention to hurricane relief by making his third trip to New Orleans in two weeks. His supporters hope the availability of other scapegoats — including the Democratic governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, and the Democratic mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin — take some focus off the president. They also hope that people will be judicious in apportioning blame for what was, at bottom, a natural disaster.

By contrast, Bush's responsibility for the Iraq war has long been acknowledged and accepted by the president himself. And the percentage of Americans who support the war has been dropping steadily all year, as has the percentage believing that the war has made the United States safer. "Iraq is a real drag on Bush," Kohut said. "It's his war. It's not going well. It has his name on it."

But Iraq remains a problematic issue for Democrats; many of the party's potential presidential aspirants seem to believe that opposing even an unpopular war might make them look weak. After months of trying to agree on common goals, the Democrats in the House and Senate seem to have resigned themselves to criticizing Bush's policies — while saying little about their alternatives.

It seems likely that Katrina will continue to alter priorities in ways that could be beneficial to Democrats. The Pew poll, for instance, found that for the first time since the Sept. 11 attacks, a majority believes that the president should concentrate on domestic issues, not foreign policy.

But the public doesn't need Democrats to tell them what went wrong with Bush's response to the disaster in New Orleans. The public needs Democrats to offer fresh alternatives on the economy and security.

The public, at least according to polls, is ready and eager to think about new ideas. The Democrats may not be.

Peter S. Canellos is the Washington bureau chief of The Boston Globe.

Bush is finished. His war in Iraq was part of his war on terror even though they had nothing to do with each other and the war on terror was about keeping us safe. Bush spent the past four years reorganizing the government so the CIA would fail us on WMD, the military would fail in Iraq, FEMA would fail us in New Orleans

Republicans win elections for one reason and ONLY one reason---they promise to give away money we don't have--tax cuts.

The democrat message should be very simple. FEMA worked before the GOP destroyed it. We can fix it.

I like the headline "whom to blame." Is there anyone but Bush to blame? As long as reporters blame democrats for what Bush has done they're screwed.