The problem with this Sunday's Meet the Press starts with the guest selection. Given the magnitude of the administration's failure in the Katrina aftermath and the at least partial admission of that failure with the removal of Michael Brown, couldn't Tim Russert have rustled up a single administration official to respond to the mounting outrage at Washington's handling of Katrina?
The only government representative on the Katrina portion of the show was New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin! So the White House was as absent from this Sunday's Meet the Press as they were from New Orleans when disaster struck. In typical Tim fashion, Russert got down to business right away. Third question: "Do you believe that New Orleans could have Mardi Gras in February of 2006?"
Once that was settled, it was on to Tim's Gotcha Game, in which he dutifully followed Karl Rove's script of completely shifting responsibility to the locals. Tim had done his homework, too -- and he was very proud of it: "But, Mr. Mayor, if you read the city of New Orleans' comprehensive emergency plan -- and I've read it and I'll show it to you and our viewers -- it says very clearly, 'Conduct of an actual evacuation will be the responsibility of the mayor of New Orleans.' ... It was your responsibility. Where was the planning? Where was the preparation? Where was the execution?"
There were no additional questions like: Where was the president? Where was the vice president? Where was the secretary of state? Where, for that matter, was the head of FEMA? Where were the massive resources of the richest country in the world? Not on Tim's talking points. There was no accountability demanded of the federal government on Meet the Press today -- only of the local mayor.
And Tim obviously thought that he had a smoking gun: "Since 2002, the federal government has given New Orleans $18 million to plan and prepare for events like this. How was that money spent?"
Eighteen million dollars! Boy you'd think that having gotten an average of $6 million dollars a year for the last three years, New Orleans would be well prepared for "an event like this."
Russert sounded as if it were a travesty that when FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security, and Michael Brown and Michael Chertoff were proving themselves so efficient and organized and able, Mayor Nagin couldn't have prevented what happened with such a gargantuan amount of money (Incidentally, via Ezra Klein, check out conservatives wanting to privatize FEMA.)
But there was more. Tim wasn't going to rest until he got Mayor Nagin to admit to his mistakes.
RUSSERT: What's the biggest mistake you made?
But Nagin wouldn't play along, and kept bringing up the big elephant in the room that Tim had tried so hard to ignore:
NAGIN: My biggest mistake is having a fundamental assumption that in the state of Louisiana, with an $18 billion budget, in the country of the United States that can move whole fleets of aircraft carriers across the globe in 24 hours, that my fundamental assumption was get as many people to safety as possible, and that the cavalry would be coming within two to three days, and they didn't come.
Nor did Tim seem particularly concerned about getting them to come on his show this week to answer some questions.
Oh, and before we close, I know you must be dying to know Nagin's answer to Tim's pitbull question about whether there would be Mardi Gras next year.
Here it is: "I haven't even thought that far out yet."
Why? What's he wasting his time on?