- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

A week of finger-pointing and blame-game playing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has scored few political points for the Democrats and their party.

Democratic leaders pounded President Bush last week, charging he and his administration were slow to grasp the full depth and breadth of the destruction and to help the Gulf coast’s storm-ravaged victims.

But when the Gallup Poll asked voters last week who was to blame for the city’s problems following the hurricane, only 13 percent faulted Mr. Bush for not acting fast enough — suggesting Democratic leaders made a monumental blunder in trying to turn a human tragedy into a political opportunity.

Instead, the national Gallup poll for CNN and USA Today found 18 percent blamed “federal agencies” and bureaucratic delay; 25 percent blamed “state and local officials” for bungling the rescue efforts; 38 percent said “no one was to blame.”

Democrats last week re-evaluated the polling data, but this wasn’t the first time they have tried but failed in a blame-game strategy they’ve used throughout the Bush presidency.

They blamed him for the Enron and WorldCom bankruptcies, attempting to tie him into the corporate abuses that shook the business world. But the charges had zero political traction as an aggressive investigation, dozens of indictments and a string of convictions and prison sentences resulted.

Then they tried to blame the corporate accounting scandal on Mr. Bush, charging his administration was asleep at the regulatory switch when businesses were cooking their books, lying to stockholders and letting accountants engage in dubious accounting procedures that hid losses and invented fictitious gains. But these charges didn’t stick either, as the investigations revealed the scandal’s roots went back to the 1990s when billions were being made in the tech stock market by companies that had no profits and fewer scruples.

The White House went into overdrive to root out guilty parties, punish offenders and enact tough new regulatory procedures. When the smoke cleared, Mr. Bush had clearly nuked the issue and Democrats had to look for a new line of attack.

Now, with Iraq on a political fast track to constitutional self-government, U.S. forces turning over security in key cities like Najaf to Iraqi troops in preparation for the first stages of U.S. withdrawal in the spring, and with yearly economic growth at 3 percent, producing historically low 4.9 percent joblessness, the Democrats are desperate for an issue with traction.

But desperation in politics can often lead to hasty decisions and foolish mistakes, and that seems to be happening in this case.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, unable to rally her party’s caucus behind any visible agenda, kept up a nonstop volley of attacks against Mr. Bush, accusing him of being “oblivious, in denial, dangerous” in response to the hurricane.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid tore into Mr. Bush with equal fury, asking: “How much time did the president spend dealing with this emerging crisis while he was on vacation? Why didn’t Bush immediately return to Washington from his vacation?”

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has taken a high-profile role in the attacks, singling out the Federal Emergency Management Agency for doing too little too late and calling for an independent commission to investigate the feds’ response to the storm.

But Gallup’s polling data suggests some Americans believe part of the blame should go to state and local officials in Louisiana.

There no doubt will be plenty of blame to go around when the hearings and investigations get under way, and FEMA — notorious for bureaucracy and red tape — will come under justifiable criticism. But officials tell me the administration was already putting together a post-hurricane timeline of every decision and action by the president and federal agencies that will show the White House on top of the crisis from Day One.

In the end, though, Americans have no appetite for the blame-pointing and political attacks in the midst of a natural catastrophe, in which there are no winners, only victims who need help. In situations like this, there are only two groups of people: doers and the blamers.

Mr. Bush and his administration lead the vast majority of doers, while the Democrats appeal to a small minority of blamers — a poor strategy for a party that wants to lead this nation again.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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