In case you missed it, one of the more astounding moments in last week's Congressional hearings about Hurricane Katrina was seeing a series of Republican lawmakers claim that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco was personally responsible for the 1,086 known to have died in the storm.
The NOLA Times-Picayune relates this gem from last week:
Some members of the House Select Committee, which is ostensibly investigating the federal government's response to the crisis in the New Orleans area, insisted that Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco accept personal responsibility for the people who died.
U.S. Rep Jeff Miller, R-Fla., giving himself over wholly to demagoguery, told Blanco that the 1,086 Louisiana residents known to have died in the storm are about half the number of American lives lost in Iraq.
"You lost that many in one day," he said.
SHE lost that many? In the entire hearings -- a complete white-wash aside from one fiesty panel of African-American survivors -- I didn't hear one Democrat personally accuse President Bush of causing over 1,000 deaths in New Orleans. The could have made the case. As the NOLA columnist says:
Is [Miller] so committed to partisan gamesmanship that he's willing to put Blanco's failings on par with the crumbling of the federal government's floodwalls?
And under-funded levee repair would be just the start of Washington's failures in the Gulf, right up to the GOP's obscene plan this week to make hurricane aid dependent on approval of drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge. Do they really care so little about the people of the Gulf to tie it up with one of Congress' most politically-charged votes this year?
Republicans have pushed hard -- and the media and Democrats have gone along -- in making a big deal about evacuation orders: when they were made, did people listen to them, and so on.
But that's not the issue. Some people hear evacuation orders, some don't. Some are able to respond to them, some can't. It's particularly pointless when talking about Hurricane Katrina, which as late as Friday -- two days before the hurricane made landfall -- was a mild-mannered storm aiming for Apalachicola, Florida.
Most importantly, in interview after interview with families of those who died, it becomes clear that many stayed by choice (a fact that busts some myths on the left) because they thought the levees would hold. They knew about all the recent construction project on the levees -- wouldn't that make them safe?
In my trip to New Orleans a week ago, I saw first-hand why these "rebuilt" levees failed. Thanks to Washington budget cuts, they were done on the cheap -- not driving the piles deep enough, using wobbly "I" beams instead of walls with a broad base, etc.
This makes the Republican assault on Louisiana's local leaders all the more offensive -- and is distracting many, including progressives, from the real issues. As the NOLA editorial concludes:
Nagin and Blanco have both made notable mistakes since this crisis began, but it is dishonest and mean-spirited of Congress to suggest that mistakes made by either one makes them liable for nearly 1,100 lives.
Maybe a small percentage of those who perished would still be alive if Nagin and Blanco had worked together to provide transportation.
But if the federal government's floodwalls had held, it's doubtful anybody would have died at all.
Let's not forget it.