President Bush's acceptance of responsibility in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which came September 13, was about as slow as the federal government's actual response to help the victims.
In short, it was too little and way too late. This will permanently tarnish his reputation for the balance of his time in his office and beyond.
Once again, the President has seemed either terribly naive or terribly insensitive - or both - while vacationing at his Crawford ranch. And both times turned out to be real disasters in which lives were lost senselessly, not to mention that they were also political and PR disasters.
The first memorable incident was in August 2001, when he was presented with intelligence that Al-Qaeda was planning a massive terrorist attack against American interests. No concrete action was taken to deter the attacks that left nearly 3,000 dead at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, and in a Pennsylvania field.
Fast forward to early September 2005, as horrific images filled our TV screens with suffering and dying Americans - not in the Gulf of the Middle East, but on the Gulf Coast of America. Yet, it took President Bush two full days before finally cutting his vacation short and returning to Washington to start dealing with Katrina. By then, precious lives were lost thanks to his buddy Michael Brown and other inexperienced bureaucrats.
And although the President has yet to see massive Vietnam-era-like antiwar demonstrations over the deaths of 2,000 brave Americans in Iraq, the deaths of some 400 Americans in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama have infuriated so many Americans that he will surely be remembered for one of the greatest failures of any President in history to protect his citizens.
Bush's disapproval ratings are now at their highest levels since he took office. His legacy will be written with, "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie," rather than, "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."
The President could have had a different legacy if he'd accepted more responsibility for his actions on terrorism, Iraq, and Katrina. He should have apologized quickly when he made his many mistakes, explained his domestic and foreign policies to the American people, and not misled the public on so many issues that will later come back to haunt him.
But we've also learned that the administration isn't alone in its inept handling of the Katrina crisis. Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D-LA) and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin failed miserably in their responsibilities to their residents and clearly spent way too much time blaming the feds rather than executing their own crisis management plans effectively. And from a PR standpoint, they never displayed the kind of leadership people desperately need from their government in times of massive suffering.
Riverside Public Relations
White Plains, NY