Yesterday President Bush toured flood-stricken areas in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, comforting victims of the biggest natural disaster in the U.S. since Hurricane Katrina. White House reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg followed him and filed Friday's "ForBush, a New Town, a New Disaster, but Always the Memory of New Orleans."
Stolberg used the three-year-old Hurricane Katrina disaster like someone making a sandwich with two slices of stale bread, working it in at the beginning and end of her story, even though the only person thinking about it seemed to be Stolberg herself.
Try as he might, President Bush cannot escape the haunting memory of Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. Bush toured flood-stricken areas here on Thursday, the latest in a string of disaster-zone visits he has made in his role as comforter in chief.
As always, he gave solace and prayers and hopeful words; he called Iowans a "tough-minded people" who would "come back better." As always, he met the governor and local mayors, pored over maps, dropped in on a shelter, promised federal aid. As always, he brought with him R. David Paulison, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a man so skilled at Hurricane Katrina comparisons that he no longer has to be asked.
The middle of the story got off Katrina to deal with the meat of Bush's visit to Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, but it surfaced again at the end as a question that "hovers" in the air (or maybe just inside Stolberg's head):
Always, the question of Hurricane Katrina hovers, with its enduring image of a seemingly detached Mr. Bush, peering out at the devastation from the window of Air Force One. "That was the biggest event of his presidency outside 9/11," said John Feehery, a Republican strategist, "and he can no more escape Katrina than he can escape 9/11."
Still, Mr. Bush and his advisers are trying. Mr. Paulison said it took as long as five hours for callers to get through to his agency during Hurricane Katrina; the response time now, he said proudly on Thursday, "is 12 seconds, and we're answering 99.7 percent of the calls."
Already, FEMA has sent 180,000 liters of water and two million sandbags to Missouri, a state that has not yet been hit hard by flooding, just in case.
Mr. Loebsack has been impressed. "So far, so good," he said, clutching his packet of giveaways from Air Force One, including M&M candies in boxes that bear the presidential seal. But, fresh from the president's hospitality, the congressman demurred on the question of whether Mr. Bush's visit to his district could repair the damage done by Hurricane Katrina.
"I don't want to get into that," he said.