In an August 28 article on the political maneuvering around the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, New York Times reporter Adam Nossiter depicted Democrats as "seizing this moment of reckoning with something approaching glee." He further suggested that Democrats view "the persistent scenes of destruction and the ongoing misery of lives upended" as "handy backdrops for criticism of the Bush administration." But while Nossiter described Democrats as "[f]inger-wagging" and "hoping to score points," he characterized President Bush and the Republican Party as handling the anniversary "gingerly" and "staking out hopeful counterpositions among the ruins."
From Nossiter's August 28 article, headlined "Anniversary Brings Out the Politics of Commemoration":
On the eve of Hurricane Katrina's first anniversary Tuesday, this city has become a giant political talking point.
Finger-wagging Democratic congressmen are pouring down here, hoping to score points a year into the stuttering recovery, and President Bush's cabinet secretaries have been staking out hopeful counterpositions among the ruins. The president himself will spend two days in the region this week.
Weary citizens, meanwhile, await with apprehension the day and its revival of painful memories. In New Orleans the anniversary will be marked with a solemn bell-ringing ceremony on the steps of City Hall to commemorate the levee breaches, and with a host of prayer services, wreath layings, colloquia and discussion panels.
Democrats are seizing this moment of reckoning with something approaching glee, while Republicans are handling it gingerly. For Democrats there are the persistent scenes of destruction and the ongoing misery of lives upended, handy backdrops for criticism of the Bush administration.
While noting Democrats' purportedly gleeful anticipation of the Katrina anniversary, Nossiter devoted comparatively little copy to the actual substance of their criticism, including only two brief quotes from Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV):
"We know the storm was a tragedy, but a bigger tragedy is how the federal government responded," Senator Harry Reid, the minority leader, said Thursday to television cameras and a handful of onlookers in the parking lot of St. Bernard Parish's only functioning grocery store.
Local officials were thin on the ground in this conservative parish to hear Mr. Reid say later, outside the grocery store: "What is needed in New Orleans is public works projects. For as much money as we spend in one week in Iraq, we could create 150,000 jobs."
By contrast, Nossiter spent six straight paragraphs detailing the White House message:
For Republicans there are more arcane indicators like the percentage of debris removed or the number of Small Business Administration loans approved. A lengthy report released last week by President Bush's Gulf Coast recovery chief detailed these and other initiatives, down to the number of passports being issued per week by the reopened New Orleans passport agency (25,000) and the number of air mattresses provided by the federal government (20,000).
Mr. Bush is set for visits to Mississippi on Monday and to New Orleans on Tuesday that are expected to include speeches, neighborhood stops and attendance at an ecumenical prayer service. He has designated Tuesday a National Day of Remembrance. Last week, he pre-emptively played down the importance of the event, cautioning that "a one-year anniversary is just that" and saying that "it's going to take a while to recover."
The White House, aware of the widespread skepticism about its commitment to rebuilding, will use this week's visit to reinforce the message that the president cares about the region and is intent on helping it recover. Instead of heralding the money that has been allocated and spent, said Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, Mr. Bush will sound uplifting themes "to shine a light on the true grit and character of the citizens who are rebuilding."
Mr. Bartlett said Mr. Bush wanted to "send a message on behalf of all Americans" that the storm's victims would not be forgotten. "The president," he said, "as most Americans, will focus on the anniversary to reflect and remember and to recommit ourselves to seeing the job through."
Nonetheless, the White House sent five cabinet secretaries -- from the Departments of Commerce, Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development -- as well as the Gulf Coast reconstruction czar, Donald Powell, to announce mini-initiatives and emphasize that progress was occurring, despite visual evidence suggesting otherwise.
A housing project overhaul, more prosecutors for the local United States attorney, $235 million for displaced students, millions more to rebuild oyster beds: Mr. Bush's deputies have been working to counter persistent dissatisfaction from outside Louisiana with the quality of the federal response.