Post-Katrina Talking Points

After an interminable week of silence on the administration's shockingly inept handling of the Katrina tragedy, Democratic leaders finally spoke out, with Harry Reid questioning whether the president's vacation hindered relief efforts and Nancy Pelosi labeling him "oblivious, in denial, dangerous."

Missing was a direct critique of Bush's greatest vulnerability -- the tens of thousands of men and women and the hundreds of billions of dollars that he is squandering in Iraq instead of using them to really protect the homeland, including from Katrina and its aftermath.

In a stinging Wall Street Journal analysis of the administration's lethally slow response, the first two reasons given for "why the U.S. didn't adequately protect and rescue its citizens" were, 1) "the absorption of FEMA into the gargantuan -- and terrorism-focused -- Department of Homeland Security"; and 2) "a military stretched by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which made commanders reluctant to commit active-duty units nearby."

That's the major, big-picture point Reid and Pelosi should be making, instead of picking nits over whether Bush would have made better decisions in D.C. instead of Crawford. Pelosi called him "dangerous," but didn't tell us why he's really dangerous. He's dangerous not just because he's in denial about the job Brownie is doing but because his policies are making this country less secure with each passing day.

Did the Dems learn nothing from 2004? Bush won because he had a double-digit lead on the question of who was going to keep us safer. Well, Katrina shoots that idea straight to hell, doesn't it? And Democrats should make clear once and for all just how illusory the president's purported strength, leadership, and steely-eyed resolve really are.

The debacle in New Orleans contains all the elements necessary to show how Bush's misguided priorities -- especially his obsession with Iraq -- have left us far more vulnerable, unsafe, and insecure. It's the perfect opportunity to redefine national security in a way that would ironically -- by putting America first -- most appeal to the red states.

So how come the Democrats are not making the, "We will protect you better" case? When will they finally understand that they will not be a majority party again until they clearly define for the country where they stand on national security -- and why their way will keep us safer than what the other guys are doing?

You don't rise from the political ashes by standing around hoping the other guy blows it. You do it by offering the American public a big, bold vision of a country that protects its own first -- which includes both securing our ports and railways from terrorists, and protecting the least among us from natural disasters (and not leaving them dying on rooftops or cowering in their bodily waste at hellish way stations like the Superdome).

Instead, true to losing form, the same brilliant minds that convinced John Kerry to focus on health care instead of Iraq and Abu Ghraib and no WMD in the last election, have decided that the Democrats should respond to Katrina by mounting an all-hands-on-deck assault on... (wait for it)... the GOP's plans to repeal the estate tax. Everyone from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Howard Dean have been reading from the same talking points, while Kerry sent out an umbrage-laden "Don't You Dare" petition about tax cuts.

Now, it goes without saying that giving mega-millionaires a tax break should be the last thing on Congress' mind right now -- and that Democrats should do everything they can to fight it. But pivoting from the massive suffering and devastation caused by Katrina (and what it reveals about the consequences of the war in Iraq and the GOP's warped definition of national security) to the estate tax is, once again, missing the point.

Derailing the privatization of Social Security didn't change the Democrats' fundamental problem -- their perceived weakness on national security. Neither will keeping the estate tax in place. The American people are mad, disgusted, and frightened. They want to know, who will keep us safe?


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