An Anniversary Made for Bush Bashing

Here they come: The anniversary stories of Hurricane Katrina, giving the Times a precious opportunity for extraneous Bush-bashing. Monday's front-page story by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Year After Katrina, Bush Still Fights for 9/11 Image," questions Bush's compassion based on the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

"When the nation records the legacy of George W. Bush, 43rd president and self-described compassionate conservative, two competing images will help tell the tale.

"The first is of Mr. Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, bullhorn in hand, feet planted firmly in the rubble of the twin towers. The second is of him aboard Air Force One, on his way from Crawford, Tex., to Washington, peering out the window at the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina thousands of feet below.

"If the bungled federal response to Hurricane Katrina called into question the president's competence, that Air Force One snapshot, coupled with wrenching scenes on the ground of victims who were largely poor and black, called into question something equally important to Mr. Bush: his compassion.

"A year later, he has yet to recover on either front.

"Mr. Bush has prodded Congress to approve tens of billions of dollars for rebuilding and victim assistance, delivered a much-publicized fence-mending speech to the N.A.A.C.P. and made repeated trips to the Gulf Coast, where he plans to observe the anniversary of the storm Monday and Tuesday."

But Stolberg insists: "Yet his public persona remains that of wartime president - the man standing in the Manhattan rubble - flying by as desperate and vulnerable Americans suffered.

"His approval ratings have never rebounded from their post-hurricane plummet. A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted this month found that 51 percent of those surveyed disapproved of the way Mr. Bush had responded to the needs of hurricane victims, a figure statistically no different from last September, when 48 percent disapproved."

And here along we thought it was the Iraq War that was hurting Bush politically.

Stolberg flips through her Bush-bashingRolodex and finds a liberal professor to criticize Bush: "'This is a real black mark on his administration, and it's going to stay with him for a long time,' said James A. Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. 'It will be in every textbook.'

She insists: "The storm is generating a powerful undercurrent in this year's midterm elections as well, as Democrats invoke it as a catchphrase for what they regard as mismanagement on a number of issues, including the war in Iraq and the economy. Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, who runs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said his candidates mentioned the storm at every turn."

When Karl Rove suggested Republicans run on Bush's aggressive response to 9-11 in this year's Congressional elections, the Times lambasted Republicans for playing politics. So why is it OK for Democrats to take advantage of a national disaster for political purposes?