THE BLOG
09/20/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Bush Said in New Orleans Today, and What He Didn't Say

"Never before has our nation seen such destruction by nature."

It's almost three years after the federal levees failed and flooded 80% of New Orleans, and George W. Bush stood today in Jackson Barracks, the National Guard h.q. in the Lower Ninth Ward, and spoke those words. They were not an ad lib, they were part of his written text. His speechwriters and advisors found it advisable to ignore three independent forensic engineering studies, and the Corps of Engineers' own 6000-page report, and blame the flooding on "nature."

He also said "we don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past," in regard to the Corps' work in rebuilding the levees and floodwalls. Yet there has not been a true accountability moment for the Corps, which one federal judge has said "knowingly" built a deficient system, under Congressional mandate, that failed to protect the city under conditions it was supposed to withstand. So we can ignore the reasons for the "mistakes of the past," and yet avoid repeating them?

As disturbing as the words he spoke were the words Bush never mentioned: in almost half an hour of remarks citing indications of progress in New Orleans since the disaster and citing the work that still needs to be done, the President never uttered the words "coastal restoration." When he bragged that he had, after protracted urging by the Governor and the state's Congressional delegation, allowed Louisiana to repay the federal share of levee rebuilding over thirty years instead of three, he said he didn't think the state should have to choose between better levees and "other" urgent programs. What is the urgent program the state is free to spend the money on? Coastal restoration, the rebuilding of the wetlands being lost at the rate of a football field every hour or so -- but the state's spending plans fall considerably short of what's needed to repair the buffer that protects New Orleans from more severe hurricanes, an area that also serves as the source for 40% of the nation's fresh seafood. If we can't even utter those words, can we face the task of repairing "the mistakes of the past"?

Gotta admit, the guy's got balls, to come to New Orleans and say, and not say, what he did. What's really amazing is that people gathered in Jackson Barracks, whoever they were, applauded him.

UPDATE: For those who insist on seeing all this through a purely partisan lens, a corrective note: After the Presidential debate commission rejected NO as a debate site ("not ready to host a major event"), the local org Women of the Storm partnered with Google/YouTube to sponsor an independent debate, and invited both candidates. McCain accepted, Obama declined. Just sayin'.