George W. finally gets it — in more ways than one. The tardy president was back on the Gulf Coast yesterday, bucking up the spirits of the damned and stiffening the resolve of the slackers.
He’s getting it as well from his critics, many of whom can’t believe their great good luck, that a hurricane, of all things, finally gives them the opening they’ve been waiting for to heap calumny and scorn on him for something that might get a little traction. Cindy Sheehan is yesterday’s news; she couldn’t attract a camera crew this morning if she stripped down to her step-ins for a march on Prairie Chapel Ranch.
The vultures of the venomous left are attacking on two fronts, first that the president didn’t do what the incompetent mayor of New Orleans and the pouty governor of Louisiana should have done, and didn’t, in the early hours after Katrina loosed the deluge on the city that care and good judgment forgot. Ray Nagin, the mayor, ordered a “mandatory” evacuation a day late, but kept the city’s 2,000 school buses parked and locked in neat rows when there was still time to take the refugees to higher ground. The bright-yellow buses sit ruined now in four feet of dirty water. Then the governor, Kathleen Blanco, resisted early pleas to declare martial law, and her dithering opened the way for looters, rapists and killers to make New Orleans an unholy hell. Gov. Haley Barbour did not hesitate in neighboring Mississippi, and looters, rapists and killers have not turned the streets of Gulfport and Biloxi into killing fields.
The drumbeat of partisan ingratitude continues even after the president flooded the city with National Guardsmen from a dozen states, paratroopers from Fort Bragg and Marines from the Atlantic and the Pacific. The flutter and chatter of the helicopters above the ghostly abandoned city, some of them from as far away as Singapore and averaging 240 missions a day, is eerily reminiscent of the last days of Saigon. Nevertheless, Sen. Mary Landrieu, who seems to think she’s cute when she’s mad, even threatened on national television to punch out the president — a felony, by the way, even as a threat. Mayor Nagin, who you might think would be looking for a place to hide, and Gov. Blanco, nursing a bigtime snit, can’t find the right word of thanks to a nation pouring out its heart and emptying its pockets. Maybe the senator should consider punching out the governor, only a misdemeanor.
The race hustlers waited for three days to inflame a tense situation, but then set to work with their usual dedication. The Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, our self-appointed twin ambassadors of ill will, made the scene as soon as they could, taking up the coded cry that Katrina was the work of white folks, that a shortage of white looters and snipers made looting and sniping look like black crime, that calling the refugees “refugees” was an act of linguistic racism. A “civil rights activist” on Arianna Huffington’s celebrity blog even floated the rumor that the starving folks abandoned in New Orleans had been forced to eat their dead — after only four days. New Orleans has a reputation for its unusual cuisine, but this tale was so tall that nobody paid it much attention. Neither did anyone tell the tale-bearer to put a dirty sock in it.
Condi Rice went to the scene to say what everyone can see for himself, that no one but the race hustlers imagine Americans of any hue attaching strings to the humanitarian aid pouring into the broken and bruised cities of the Gulf. Most of the suffering faces in the flickering television images are black, true enough, and most of the helping hands are white.
Black and white churches of all denominations across a wide swath of the South stretching from Texas across Arkansas and Louisiana into Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia turned their Sunday schools into kitchens and dormitories. In Memphis, Junior Leaguers turned out for baby-sitting duty at the city’s largest, most fashionable and nearly all white Baptist church, cradling tiny black infants in compassionate arms so their mothers could finally sleep. The owner of a honky-tonk showed up to ask whether the church would “accept money from a bar.” A pastor took $1,400, some of it in quarters, dimes and nickels, with grateful thanks and a promise to see that it is spent wisely on the deserving — most of whom are black.
The first polls, no surprise, show the libels are not working. A Washington Post-ABC survey found that the president is not seen as the villain the nutcake left is trying to make him out to be. Americans, skeptical as ever, are believing their own eyes.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.