Bush Insiders Call Katrina 'Nail in the Coffin'
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,800, leaving New Orleans a shell of its former self.
Now two former advisers to President Bush are saying the deadly hurricane also derailed Bush's presidency, according to Vanity Fair's "oral history" of Bush's perceived missteps.
Dan Bartlett, White House communications director and later counselor to the president, said: "Politically, it was the final nail in the coffin."
Bartlett, once a trusted Bush adviser, has spoken out in recent years against some administration policies. A year after the hurricane, he told The Post that it "was a setback at the time, but it was recoverable." Apparently that didn't happen. As Bartlett said in a recent interview with Texas Monthly: "Katrina. It's enough to make your hair turn gray."
In his book on Vice President Dick Cheney, "Angler," The Post's Barton Gellman writes that Bartlett had supported the idea of having the vice president run the post-Katrina response and was initially frustrated by Cheney's refusal to take on the task.
"It would send a powerful signal of our level of concern" to put the vice president in charge, Bartlett said. Eventually, though, Bartlett came to see Cheney's demurral "quite frankly as pretty good judgment." Cheney "doesn't do touchy-feely," Bartlett said, "Understanding what people's problems are and showing compassion -- that is an important part of the job of being the representative of he president... He was not going to go down there and hug babies."
Matthew Dowd, Bush's pollster and chief strategist for the 2004 presidential campaign, also told Vanity Fair that Katrina was the "tipping point," saying that the hurricane caused the president to break "his bond with the public:"
Once that bond was broken, he no longer had the capacity to talk to the American public. State of the Union addresses? It didn't matter. Legislative initiatives? It didn't matter. P.R.? It didn't matter. Travel? It didn't matter. I knew when Katrina--I was like, man, you know, this is it, man. We're done.
Dowd has spoken out against Bush before, lambasting the president in April 2007 and saying he was personally disappointed by Bush's leadership, or lack thereof.
Meanwhile, Michael Brown, the former Federal Emergency Management director nicknamed "Brownie" by the president, told the magazine he accepts partial blame for the weak government response, for "sticking to those political talking points about how we're working as a team." But Brown also criticized Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff for creating a hard-to-navigate bureaucracy.
I should have basically told Chertoff to kiss off, that I would continue to deal directly with the president. But he's the new kid on the block and the White House deferred to him, and it gave me no choice but to work through him, which then scoped things down and caused it to just completely implode on itself.
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