Bill Clinton chatted with former staffer George Stephanopoulos about Bush, Iarq, and Katrina; as they discussed the evacuation plan for New Orleans, it appeared that Mr. Clinton forgot that at one time he had been President himself:
PRESIDENT CLINTON: ...But I think the fundamental problem there was, it's like when they issued the evacuation order: that affects poor people differently. A lot of them in New Orleans didn't have cars. A lot of them who had cars had kinfolk they had to take care of. They didn't have cars, so they couldn't take them out.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And they couldn't get gas.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: And they couldn't get gas.
Then, you had another thing nobody's talked about: a lot of these people never had any home insurance, didn't have any flood insurance. Everything they owned was in their little home. And if we really wanted it to do it right, we would have had lots of buses lined up to take them out and also lots of empty vans so that everybody with no kind of home or flood insurance could have been given a little bit--
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Mayor probably should have had those buses.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: A little bit of it.
Maybe the Mayor, maybe the Governor, but all I can tell you is that when James Lee Witt ran FEMA, because he had been both a local official and a Federal official, he was always there early, and we always thought about that. But both of us came out of environments with a disproportionate number of poor people.
I think that we were sensitive to the racial issue, but I think we were sensitive to the economic issue. And you can't have an emergency plan that works if it only affects middle class people up, and when you tell people to go do something they don't have the means to do, you're going to leave the poor out.
First of all, what kind of cut-rate plan is Clinton proposing - buses and moving vans? In *my* fantasy plan, we will have buses, and right behind them will be moving vans, and right behind them will be vans staffed with physical therapists, manicurists, and a masseuse, and right behind that will be a van with some grief counselors, separation counselors, and, well, counselors. Because these evacuees will have unmet needs.
But set aside Clinton's lack of compassion. Does he seriously think that Mr. Witt would show up 72 hours before the Big Blow and arrange all this?
Or is Mr. Clinton seriously suggesting that back in the day when Mr. Witt was running FEMA, the evacuation plan for New Orleans included buses and moving vans for the poor? When was that dropped from the plan?
Or (third choice), is Mr. Clinton just running his mouth?
YOU make the call!
MORE: I'll copy this, even though it clearly could not have happened while Messrs. Clinton and Witt were in charge:
On September 27, 1998: Hurricane Georges forced large scale evacuation of the City of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf coast as Georges approaches the mouth of the Mississippi River, ultimately making landfall at Biloxi, MS. That evacuation effort was the largest effort in US history at the time, overwhelming the infrastructure of the region for several hundred miles. The Louisiana Superdome was used as a last resort evacuation shelter for the first time.
STILL MORE: Bob Somerby argues that, with "Maybe the Mayor, maybe the Governor", Clinton was blaming everyone but Bush. Interesting, and Bob is a genius, but - No Sale. Everything before and after that phrase is about the Feds - poverty programs, taxes, and FEMA involvement. My reading is, "Maybe the mayor, maybe the governor, but definitely the President...". Let's go the the videotape!
YOU DON"T NEED A WEATHERMAN TO KNOW WHICH WAY THE WIND BLOWS: Dealing with Hurricane Georges in 1998, Superman James Lee Witt provides a take-charge quote while delighting Dylan fans everywhere:
The storm is "going to last through Wednesday and an awful lot of rain is going to fall," said James Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). "Watch for tornadoes as well. ... Please put yourself and family out of harm's way."
A hard rain's gonna fall - do tell! But what's this about "Please put myself and my family out of harm's way"? I'm gonna sit and wait for the bus with the moving van. Any minute now.
LESSONS (UN)LEARNED: Let's hear from the former Chief of Police in New Orleans, who is now in Atlanta:
"When I heard Mayor Nagin say, 'We're going to use the Superdome,' I wasn't surprised at anything that happened," Pennington said. "When I was police chief we took people to the Superdome [during Hurricane Georges in 1998], and it turned out to be a disaster. The power went out; there were assaults and looting of property from inside the Superdome.
"When it was all over, [then-Mayor] Marc Morial, myself and others said we would probably use another venue [the next time]. We would try to use buses to evacuate people to venues in Baton Rouge or other places."
"You've got five or six public housing communities in New Orleans with their various gangs. You put them all in the same venue, that's a call for disaster," Pennington said. "These people don't like each other to start with. I'm surprised more people didn't get killed. The only reason they didn't is that the National Guard did a good job of searching them for weapons before they entered."
Apparently the bad experience with Georges prompted the city to incorpoprate buses into their evacuation plan, although that part of the plan was not implemented.