Bush in deeper and deeper trouble post-Katrina

Bush is in deeper and deeper trouble as a result of ineffective response to Hurricane Katrina. The question is:how deep and long-lasting will be the impact?Meanwhile the survivors of Katrina have had their lives changed forever. One can only hope that Americans will see what has happened and reject a government that is callous, cynical and incompetent.

Efforts to rescue Bush's image are swamped by criticism in Katrina's wake
10:43 PM EDT Sep 08

WASHINGTON (CP) - It seems the intense political effort to rescue President George W. Bush's image is facing as many hurdles as the recovery from hurricane Katrina's devastation.

Assailed by critics as awkward, incompetent and insensitive, even racist, Bush has lost the strong footing he found in the dark days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Even Republicans have contributed to widespread condemnation of the administration's painfully slow response to a tragedy that has left more than a million in the Gulf Coast region homeless and claimed the lives of untold thousands.

Some American political observers are predicting Bush, whose already low approval rating slipped further in Katrina's wake, will have difficulty climbing back in time to prevent Democrats from making inroads with voters during next year's congressional elections.

"I suppose getting good marks from here could stem the downward slide," said pollster John Zogby, who released a survey Thursday pegging Bush's rating at an all-time low of 41 per cent.

"But once this subsides, it's back to Iraq. There's not likely much he can do."

A lot will depend, observers say, on how long the recovery process takes as it stirs fresh heartbreaking tales of captive victims.

More than a week after Katrina hit, word began trickling out about forgotten towns in Lousiana where residents say they were left to die.

In one terrible case, 30 residents of a nursing home perished. As help finally arrived, a sign on a boarded-up window in Chalmette, La., proclaimed: About Time Bush!

"A month from now, if Katrina is still dominating the headlines, he really is in bad shape," said Stephen Hess, a politics professor at George Washington University.

"It certainly has some effect on his immediate domestic agenda. He has no money for anything but Katrina."

For many, it's hard to pinpoint Bush's biggest gaffe, from failing to visit the stricken area for days to saying he didn't "think anybody expected" the New Orleans levees to break down when countless studies have predicted it.

Daily appearances since, including a televised call Thursday for a national day of prayer and remembrance, have done little to dispel the widespread notion that he's not on top of the crisis.

"Lethal ineptitude," is how New York Times columnist Paul Krugman put it.

"Refusal to acknowledge basic realities, lethally misplaced priorities, lack of compassion and overarching arrogance," said author Norman Soloman.

"George Bush doesn't care about black people," rapper Kanye West stated bluntly in a now infamous ad lib from the script for a relief concert.

"If you see a black family, it's looting, but if it's a white family they are looking for food."

A Gallup poll released this week suggested Americans are largely divided about the response to Katrina and just 13 per cent blamed the president.

But the Zogby survey suggested Bush bore the brunt of public criticism, with 27 per cent blaming him while others targeted federal and local officials.

Most said private charities like the American Red Cross did a better job than anyone in government in responding to the disaster.

And a new poll by the Pew Research Center suggested two-thirds thought the president could have done more to get relief efforts going quickly.

Several Democrats lined up this week to take a swing at the president, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi calling him "oblivious, in denial, dangerous."

They demanded an independent inquiry, including whether Bush's vacation time stymied the proper response to Katrina.

They also urged Bush to fire Michael Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, although the administration stripped the agency of much of its power to respond to natural disasters in the post-9-11 focus on anti-terrorism.

The administration has suffered sharp criticism from Republicans like Mississippi Senator Trent Lott and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

But many have started to swing back at Democrats, with the party's National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman accusing rivals this week of "pointing fingers in an effort to tear us apart."

While Bush remains popular among Republican voters, said Zogby, his job approval there is down to 77 per cent from 91 per cent when he won the 2004 election.

"You're starting to see it chisel away, point by point," he said.

Depending on how the next few months pan out, Republican congressional contenders, especially those facing a tough fight next year, may not be standing in line to welcome him.

"It's helpful for a member to be able to embrace a president," said Ross Baker, a politics professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "If not, they're very much alone."

And as far as hopes of modestly increasing support among blacks: "I think they can kiss that one goodbye."

The implications of Bush's woes for the 2008 presidential race are potentially much less dire, said Zogby.

Top Republican contenders like former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Senator John McCain aren't tied to Bush.

"They can campaign independently of the last eight years."

And despite Bush's dismal poll numbers, which suggest he'd lose now to every modern president since Jimmy Carter, said Zogby, he'd still beat last year's Democratic rival John Kerry by a narrow one-point margin.

Democrats, in a state of disarray since last year's presidential race, "aren't really able to take advantage of the president's unpopularity," said Zogby.

© The Canadian Press, 2005

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