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by Dick Morris KATRINA POLITICS e-mail this column to a friend E-mail this column to a friend!


September 7, 2005 -- Democrats and their allies think they have at last found the perfect storm to sink the Bush presidency and, possibly, shake the GOP domination in the Delta area. The media has constantly harped on the political damage President Bush's belated response to the hurricane disaster will cause.

Don't believe it. Yes, his reviews in the first days after the tempest hit are clearly bad and he obviously failed to anticipate the magnitude of the response the nation expected and the area needed — but relief is a gift that keeps on giving.

Day after day after day, people will see a massive flow of federal aid to the hard-hit area. While the storm's intensity and the catastrophe it caused concentrated into a few days the horrific experiences of the poor victims, the rebuilding process will take months and years. This process, likely to become a theme for Bush's second term in the way 9/11 dominated his first one, will ultimately become a presidential strength.

Bush has no choice but to make an appropriate effort — meaning a massive federal involvement. As the length and breadth of this commitment becomes clear, Bush will find a new source of popularity.

Like all Americans, I am revolted at the total failure of the government to anticipate and respond to the needs of its citizens. The rape, murder, looting and psychological scars that flowed from this public myopia are inexcusable. When FEMA saw the storm headed for New Orleans, why didn't it send the trucks immediately on their way? Did it take a genius to figure out that the region would lack for food, fuel and water? Why didn't the feds force the issue and take a leadership role, instead of waiting for the local officials to make a request? Why wasn't there an immediate airlift of meals and water the minute the winds died down?

These are all questions that need answering. But they will pale by comparison with the daily visuals of help arriving in ever more massive quantities courtesy of the Bush administration.

All presidents look their best in mitigating disaster. Their broad executive authority to respond transcends the normal limits of checks and balances — and their aid is given out in front of cameras, rather than in the anonymity of the mailbox where most cash transfers take place. So as a result, the administration will find its relief efforts a strong and growing plus.

Meanwhile, the members of Louisiana's congressional delegation need to explain why they never used their considerable political clout to get enough aid to strengthen the city's defenses against the surrounding ocean to prevent the levee from breaking in the first place.

What did they use their political power for instead? Why were they bought off with post offices and other token federal aid when the main city in their state was so vulnerable?

Where was Sen. Mary Landrieu demanding aid? If this swing-state senator, whose father was a mayor of New Orleans, had made clear to her party's leadership and to the White House that her legislative course would be determined by their response to this critical need for a new levee, she could have exerted the pull needed to get the project under way.

Likewise, ex-Sen. John Breaux — who was probably the single most influential senator during the Clinton years. In the '90s, he could have weighed in successfully and gotten the capital support his state needed.

Breaux and Landrieu have always been among the handful of swing votes in the Senate. Where were they? They have a bit of explaining to do as well.

But weep not for Bush. A disaster like Katrina is just what a president needs to anchor his second term and give him relevance and popularity far into his tenure. Not that he wanted it. Not that he handled it well to begin with. Not that he didn't mess it up at the start. But this story will have a happy ending for Bush — and, we all hope, for the people of New Orleans.

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