- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2005

President Bush has significantly raised his public profile in recent days after being accused of responding too slowly in the initial aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Mr. Bush will tour the devastation in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama today, after three public appearances in the past two days. Yesterday, he granted a rare live TV interview and then faced cameras in the Oval Office with former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush.

Mr. Bush was asked by ABC News to respond to Democratic criticism that he should have organized an emergency Cabinet meeting Tuesday instead of Wednesday, when he returned from his monthlong vacation in Texas.

“Well, I started organizing Tuesday when we realized the extent of the storm,” he said. “And I said, ‘Look, when I get back to Washington on Wednesday afternoon, I want to have a report on my desk and a Cabinet meeting for you to tell me exactly what your departments are going to do to help alleviate the situation.’”

He added: “I hope people don’t point — play politics during this period of time. This is a natural disaster the likes of which our country may have never seen before. And it’s a national emergency.”

But some of the fiercest criticism of the president is coming from fellow conservatives. The staunchly conservative editorial page of the Union Leader of Manchester, N.H., savaged Mr. Bush for not responding more decisively Tuesday.

“A better leader would have flown straight to the disaster zone and announced the immediate mobilization of every available resource to rescue the stranded, find and bury the dead, and keep the survivors fed, clothed, sheltered and free of disease,” the paper said in an editorial on Wednesday.

“The cool, confident, intuitive leadership Bush exhibited in his first term, particularly in the months immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, has vanished,” the editorial added. “In its place is a diffident detachment unsuitable for the leader of a nation facing war, natural disaster and economic uncertainty.”

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer said the president “is going to be hurt” by a photo of him receiving a guitar from a country singer after a speech on Tuesday, when the scope of the hurricane damage was becoming clear.

“When you have the worst disaster in American history, you’ve got to be attuned to expectations,” Mr. Krauthammer said on Fox News Channel on Wednesday. “The minute that he’d heard that the levees had given way and the flooding was beginning, he should have hopped on a plane, canceled his schedule and showed up” in Washington.

Instead, Mr. Bush showed up Wednesday, met with his Cabinet and gave a speech in the Rose Garden. It was called “one of the worst speeches of his life” by the editorial page of the New York Times yesterday.

“The president appeared a day later than he was needed,” the editorial said. “Nothing about the president’s demeanor yesterday — which seemed casual to the point of carelessness — suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis.”

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