President Bush yesterday toured the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast for the second time in four days, but Democrats continued to blame him for the federal government’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. Bush ignored the criticism, preferring to buck up shell-shocked residents at a Baton Rouge, La., emergency center with promises of federal aid.
“If it’s not right, we’re going to fix it, and if it is right, we’re going to keep doing it,” he said. “This is one of these disasters that will test our soul and test our spirit.
“But we’re going to show the world, once again, that not only we will survive, but that we will be stronger and better for it when it’s all said and done, that amidst this darkness, there is light,” he added.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean was not impressed.
“President Bush’s visit today is just another callous political move crafted by Karl Rove,” he said, referring to Mr. Bush’s chief political adviser.
“This is one failure we will not allow Rove and the GOP attack machine to spin away with their usual barrage of photo ops, misinformation, smear campaigns and press conferences,” Mr. Dean added.
After visiting the emergency center, Mr. Bush traveled to a shelter in a Baton Rouge church to praise the religious community for helping hurricane victims.
“We can help save lives once a person finds a shelter such as this, and that means getting people food and water and medicine and help and, in a place like this, love,” he said.
Mr. Bush kissed the cheek of Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, who has refused to allow the Pentagon to take control of the state’s National Guard. The Democratic governor also has turned over relief efforts to James Lee Witt, who was director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the Clinton administration.
Afterward, Mr. Bush headed to Poplarville, Miss., where he expressed sympathy to storm victims at a community college.
“I understand if you’re saying to yourself, ‘Well, it’s hard for me to realize what George W. is saying because I’ve seen the rubble and I know what has happened to my neighbors,’ ” he said. “But I’d like to come back down here in about two years and walk your streets and see how vital this part of the world is going to be.”
In Houston, Mr. Bush was defended by his father, former President George Bush, who has joined with former President Bill Clinton to raise funds for hurricane victims. The elder Mr. Bush was asked about criticism of his son.
“What do I think as a father? I don’t like it,” the former president answered. “I don’t want to personalize this, but we’re very, very proud of him, of course.”
He said his wife, Barbara, was especially sensitive to criticism of her son.
“If somebody wants to tell Barbara about the things that are going wrong, the president’s doing wrong, I suggest you wear your flak jacket,” he said.
But he added that criticism “goes with the territory” of being president and that his son “can take it.”
Mr. Clinton suggested he had been more attentive to the dangers of flooding in New Orleans than his successor.
“We had some people killed in the flood toward the end of my first term in the New Orleans area,” he said. “And there was a study done for strengthening the levee system.
“And I believe that we began to do that along toward the end of my second term when the study was completed and the funding,” Mr. Clinton added. “What happened to it, I don’t know.”