In the midst of the hurricane devastation, the folks at NBC's "Today" seemed a bit too smiley for a Monday morning as they kept reporting that President Bush's approval ratings had hit an "all-time low." Have you seen the AP poll? How about the Zogby poll? Did we mention "all-time low," they wondered?
If Republicans were asking themselves when the Cindy Sheehan publicity festival would end, they got their answer: when the next Bush-trashing media opportunity suggested itself.
It's not political rocket science to figure that job approval ratings of a president might dip after the bungled government response to the flooding of New Orleans. But how badly did the feds botch their initial response, and how much of that was the president's fault? It didn't matter. In the eyes of a news media that institutionally despises the man, Bush was the Bungler-in-Chief, and they grasped the opportunity to turn a natural disaster into a political disaster for the White House.
One obvious reality in all the hurricane coverage is the liberal media's love for government action. It took only about 24 hours for Chris Matthews to start lecturing America that all those people who think there should be less government and lower taxes should realize that this is why we need super-sized statism, because only the federal government has the resources and "the manpower, I mean person power" to handle disasters.
The anti-Republican/pro-Big Government bias is so predictable. In the spring of 1997, a massive snowfall led to flooding and levee-breaking in North Dakota. Nobody blamed Bill Clinton's administration for not realizing the levees were going to break. The political games didn't start until summer, when the congressional GOP suicidally tried to hold up some flood aid to get political concessions out of the White House. It was quickly used against them. They quickly became the callous haters of disaster victims.
ABC's John Cochran lamented: "Flood victims in Grand Forks do not understand why Republican leaders refuse to pass an aid bill without strings attached." A flood victim elaborated with vigor: "The river took our home, our possessions, our neighbors, our neighborhood and we still have our spirit. But the government is taking our spirit and our strength. And that's what's going to kill us."
According to the nightly news, natural disasters present a fine opportunity to suggest that when Republicans try to limit government, they are obviously out to kill somebody.
Bill Clinton saw every disaster as an opportunity for lip-biting political opportunism. There was no such thing as overdoing federal disaster aid. In a 1997 article for Slate.com, Jodie Allen noted that before 1993, no snowstorm or blizzard had been declared a "major disaster or emergency" by the president. But in the first four years of Clinton, nearly four dozen severe winter storms were so designated, 17 in 1996 alone. She called 1996 "a banner year for calamity: FEMA found itself responding to 75 major disasters and eight emergencies so designated by the White House." Crass political opportunism, anyone?
Clinton suffered positively zero media badgering for completely overdoing federal hurricane reactions. In 1999, he pre-emptively declared a state of emergency around Hurricane Floyd, causing some of the worst traffic jams in the history of the South. Luckily the storm did not kill large numbers of people in their cars, where they are most vulnerable. Emergency experts estimated the evacuation cost at cost more than $2 billion, but since 95 percent of the cost of the evacuation was borne by the evacuees, the Clinton administration proclaimed it was a great success.
Had the Bush administration reacted to oncoming Katrina by ordering a $2 billion evacuation, 95 percent of which cost would be carried by Gulf Coast residents, no journalistic levee would have held back the media's outrage.
No one in the media really objects when FEMA gives out taxpayers' money out like free candy, either. Reporter James Bovard found that after the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, Calif., FEMA began mailing checks out to homeowners even before they'd claimed a dime's worth of damage. All it took to get an average grant of $3,450 was an address in the proper ZIP code. And $142 million in "fast-track assistance" went out to people whose homes required no inspection whatsoever to collect.
The ultimate irony about the media's liberal disaster opportunism is that President Bush isn't any threat to super-sized statism. He hasn't vetoed a single spending bill, no matter how outrageous the congressional pork. He ran for office in 2000 accusing conservatives of balancing budgets on the backs of the poor. But since he continues to enjoy a base of support in his party that prefers less government, and he is George Bush, a liberal media cannot resist the opportunity to administer whippings to conservatives generally, and Bush personally, when disasters hand them a weapon.