- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2008

OP-ED:

It’s like deja vu all over again (in the words of Yogi Berra) but not the kind you want to revisit this time around. As Hurricane Gustav ripped its way through the Gulf Coast hitting New Orleans just days after the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Republicans shifted focus from a celebratory filled convention to a solemn one. All of yesterday’s events were cancelled, except mandatory business. Convention chiefs are making scheduling decisions on a day-to-day basis, while media pundits readily recycle the political spin of storms past.

The Republican National Committee and McCain campaign issued calls to put politics aside for the moment, yet that seemed to be lost on Connecticut Democrat Sen. Chris Dodd, who on CNN’s Late Edition Sunday sounded more like a callous machine attack dog, annoyingly repeating: “Had this - the Bush administration not let this city drown basically three years ago, we wouldn’t even be talking about this.” Way to go Mr. Dodd. Keep shoveling the same partisan crap in the middle of a hurricane.

The liberal media wasn’t much better, with its constant Katrina comparisons and not-so-subtle suggestions that the storm would “help the Republicans redeem themselves” - as if Republicans created and caused the devastation wrought by Katrina, or better yet, really wished another Katrina-like storm would hit the same exact city so that they could prove just how humane they really are. The absurdity couldn’t be more glaring.

Granted, we all recognize the colossal failures that took place and the Bush administration’s paltry response in the immediate aftermath. But where are we now? And what has been accomplished since then? Quite a bit.

There were plenty of lessons learned the hard way from Hurricane Katrina and by all accounts the administration has spent three years, with millions of volunteers and over $140 billion of your dollars, “correcting” those mistakes. Now is not the time to wallow in or add salt to a healing wound. Stop picking the scab Mr. Dodd. There is a lot of blame to be shared (beginning at the local and state level.) In fact, to follow Mr. Dodd’s logic, it could be argued that if New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (or even Gov. Kathleen Blanco) would have done what Mr. Nagin has spent the entire weekend doing - we wouldn’t “be here now.”

Mr. Nagin on Sunday warned: “Our mandatory evacuation went into effect this morning at 8:00 a.m. for the west bank, which is the area that the storm is still pointing towards to have the most impact, so we wanted to give our citizens time on the west bank to get out of town … this is still a big ugly storm. It’s still strong. And I strongly urge everyone to leave.” And for those potential criminals with ideas of mischief, Mr. Nagin had this warning: “I just want to send a strong message out to anybody who’s thinking about lingering around and becoming a looter. Looting will not be tolerated. We have doubled the police force, doubled the National Guard force that we had for Katrina, and looters will go directly to jail. You will not get out - you will not get a pass this time. As a matter of fact, anybody who is caught looting in the city of New Orleans will go directly to Angola, directly to Angola.”

Imagine if you will, if this had been the initial response (or preparation) by Mr. Nagin or Mrs. Blanco - this kind of urgency before Katrina? Or a dozen different “what if” scenarios. One could argue, it would be a vastly different picture.

Now is the time to put partisanship aside and to focus, in a collaborative way, on what is working, what needs to happen to ensure that the people of the Gulf Coast are out of harm’s way and back on their feet as quickly and safely as possible. Focusing on who did what three years ago, does nothing to tackle what’s in front of us.

Standing before the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency over the weekend, Mr. McCain declared: “We take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats.” And First Lady Laura Bush echoed that sentiment in making the TV rounds, she told CBS on Monday: “There were lots of mistakes, and they were on every level. They were local, they were statewide, and there were certainly federal mistakes - but we learned from those … I think we’ll see that the coordination between the federal government, the state government and the local government will be much, much better, and I think that’s very important. And I think what was learned from the hurricane is something that can serve the country very well for any sort of disaster in any part of the country.”

Mr. Dodd seemed to be alone in his narrow rantings: “Katrina symbolizes the failure of the Bush administration to respond to a major crisis in our country,” he told Wolf Blitzer. Mr. Dodd should note that for every failure there is a lesson learned. His might be to keep his mouth shut in the middle of a storm.

Tara Wall is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Times. twall@washington times.com.