In an article headlined "Bush's Sensitive Side is Showing," Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen quoted former Bush official John DiIulio saying, "Clinton talked, 'I feel your pain.' ... But as Bush showed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he truly does feel deeply for others and loves this country with a passion." Despite quoting DiIulio's characterization of Bush's expressions of empathy as genuine and Clinton's not, at no point did Eggen mention Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina, for which he was widely criticized.
In a December 14 article, headlined "Bush's Sensitive Side is Showing," Washington Post staff writer Dan Eggen reported that President George W. Bush was "getting a bit misty in his final weeks, taking frequent opportunities to explore his sensitive side while discussing his legacy -- from the importance of his Christian faith to his conviction that, sometimes, all we need is love." Eggen wrote, "The wave of presidential emoting comes as part of an effort by Bush and his aides to highlight the positive side of his legacy as he nears his final month in office, while also bidding farewell to world leaders and longtime colleagues." Eggen quoted John J. DiIulio Jr., former director of the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, saying: "[Former President Bill] Clinton talked, 'I feel your pain.' ... But as Bush showed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he truly does feel deeply for others and loves this country with a passion." At no point in the article -- in which Eggen quoted DiIulio purporting to contrast what he said was Bush's genuine empathy with what he characterized as Clinton's disingenuous expressions of empathy -- did the reporter mention Hurricane Katrina or note the widespread, bipartisan condemnation that Bush received over his response to its devastation.
For instance, as Media Matters for America noted, in an August 26, 2006, article, the Post quoted numerous Republicans criticizing the White House's handling of the crisis and commenting on the political challenges that resulted from it: Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-NC) said that Katrina "undermined" Bush's reputation as an able leader; Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) described the crisis as "a break in the levee of political goodwill and the Teflon coating that the administration had been enjoying up to then"; Rep. Jim McCrery (R-LA) complained about the images of Bush "joshing amid the devastation"; and White House counselor Dan Bartlett referred to the storm as a "setback."
Terry Ebbert, then-head of New Orleans' emergency operations, reportedly said of the federal government's response to Katrina: "This is a national emergency. This is a national disgrace."
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a September 6, 2005, press release, "This is not just a natural disaster; this is a failure to prepare." Pelosi later added: "The American people expect and deserve accountability, they expect leadership, and they expect competence. They didn't see any of that coming out of the White House following the disaster of Katrina." Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) said in a September 3, 2005, statement: "The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast -- black and white, rich and poor, young and old -- deserve far better from their national government." The New York Times reported on September 2, 2005, that "Representative Harold Ford, Democrat of Tennessee, said in a statement that Bush's speech on the hurricane from the Rose Garden on Wednesday was 'uninspiring and uninstructive' and added that he was struck by Bush's 'cavalier attitude toward the plight of poor people across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.' Ford added that "now is not the time in the face of pain, anguish, and death to be weak and uncertain."
Bipartisan committees in Congress also leveled harsh criticism at the Bush administration over its handling of Katrina. Media Matters documented the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs' release of a report in May 2006, which concluded that the Department of Homeland Security "failed to lead an effective federal response to Hurricane Katrina" and listed specific steps that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff failed to take both before and after the storm. The report stated, "Secretary Chertoff failed to make ready the full range of federal assets pursuant to DHS's responsibilities under the National Response Plan (NRP)" and "failed to appoint a Principal Federal Official (PFO), the official charged with overseeing the federal response under the NRP, until 36 hours after landfall." Michael Brown, the PFO that Chertoff eventually chose, "was hostile to the federal government's agreed-upon response plan and therefore was unlikely to perform effectively in accordance with its principles." Moreover, the Senate report stated, "Even when appointed PFO, Brown remained the Director of FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency], an apparent violation of the NRP's requirement that a PFO not be 'dual hatted' with any other roles or responsibilities that could detract from their overall incident-management responsibilities.' "
Similarly, the House of Representatives' Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, which released its final report on February 15, 2006, found that "critical elements of the National Response Plan," parts of which Chertoff was responsible for, "were executed late, ineffectively, or not at all." The report also asserted that "DHS and the states were not prepared for" Katrina.
From Eggen's December 14 Washington Post article, "Bush's Sensitive Side is Showing:
For President Bush, it seems, love is in the air.
Standing Friday before a welcoming crowd at Texas A&M University, he talked about the "unconditional love" he received from his father, the "gift of love" given by a couple who care for foster children, and his eagerness to return to the "place I love" once he leaves office.
The president who once dared militants to "bring 'em on" is getting a bit misty in his final weeks, taking frequent opportunities to explore his sensitive side while discussing his legacy -- from the importance of his Christian faith to his conviction that, sometimes, all we need is love.
Such touchy-feely rhetoric is not entirely foreign for Bush, who first ran for the presidency as a "compassionate conservative" and spoke frequently about his religious faith and the need to "love a neighbor" in his 2000 campaign. But during eight years that have included war, partisan battles and an economic catastrophe, Bush's kinder and gentler side has not often been on such full display.
The wave of presidential emoting comes as part of an effort by Bush and his aides to highlight the positive side of his legacy as he nears his final month in office, while also bidding farewell to world leaders and longtime colleagues. Between boasts about vanquishing terrorists and succeeding in Iraq, many of his recent speeches and interviews have focused on social programs and initiatives -- such as anti-drug and anti-AIDS efforts -- that lend themselves to an emotional appeal.
Bush's rhetoric has always offered a mix of the tough and the tender, reflecting the personality of a taciturn Texan who nonetheless has talked publicly about his struggles with drinking and the born-again Christian experience he had after he turned 40. John J. DiIulio Jr., the first director of Bush's Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, wrote in 2002 that "in many ways, he is all heart."
"Clinton talked, 'I feel your pain,' " DiIulio wrote, referring to the 42nd president's famous public empathy. "But as Bush showed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he truly does feel deeply for others and loves this country with a passion."