Because she so thoroughly botched the state’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 – and maybe because even with nothing to do for the past couple of years she has made apparently insufficient progress on her promised tell-all book – Democrat former Gov. Kathleen Blanco has to use strong language in her quest to rehabilitate herself in the eyes of the public. Regardless of whatever words she uses, however, they do not alter the historical record that differs decidedly from her description of it.
Blanco lashed out as a result of prepublication releases of former Republican White House Special Counsel Karl Rove’s memoirs of his time working for former Pres. George W. Bush. Rove wrote that the ineptitude of and infighting between Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin hampered responses and the most effective strategy would have been for the federal government to have found a way to take over managing the situation.
She retorted that Rove “lied and played games, putting lives at risk for the sake of politics,” and claimed that even before the storm hit she spelled out in a letter what kinds of assistance would be needed, and confirmed the request in a timely fashion, claiming she has documents to prove all of this. Unfortunately for her, the verifiable, historical record suggests that between the two of them Rove is not the liar.
First, the federal government never received a written, detailed request for a response that comported to federal law. The only explanation that could then reconcile both views was the old got-lost-in-the-mail ploy. Which begs the question: why didn’t Blanco, in the search for the crucial immediacy of the request, choose the postal service over a FAX or e-mail message? Conditions weren’t so bad on Sep. 2, 2005 (three days after landfall) or earlier that somewhere in the Capitol complex in
Significantly, in the days right after the disaster unfolded, Blanco acknowledged she had done a poor job at the official request that was received. She did make a vague and confused request she later complained about that she didn’t know how it properly should have been done – despite the fact that only a year early there had been a whole drill about a very similar scenario and a few months after that real-life Hurricane Ivan that provided a real-world drill opportunity. Then, no mention was made of any, more formal and detailed request that had been sent by mail.
Second, this is fueled even more by her subsequent behavior. She immediately began to worry about, as messages demonstrated, the political impact of her handling of the situation and within days was developing a strategy to deflect criticism from her. When Congressional investigations rolled around some three months later, Blanco then refused initially to provide some information, then, when it was given incompletely, it was peppered with odd redactions. None of it contained direct, primary documents authentic to the time period that would support assertions she made about her acting decisively and the federal government stonewalling.
In her comments about Rove, Blanco claimed documents secured from the governor's office verified her assertion. Was she referring to the original, unexpurgated documents that she never turned over to Congress? If so, why were they sent to Congress in incomplete fashion and expurgated? And does she include in this description the purported letter sent in a timely fashion with a detailed assistance request of which there was no contemporary corroboration of its existence?
Third, some days later Blanco testified in front of Congress in ways that charitably could be called confused, at worst mendacious, including stating she never had refused federal assistance when in fact, as Rove wrote it should have insisted on doing so despite her, the federal government did offer to take over the entire situation and send in troops immediately early on but did not at her dithering refusal.
Since then, Blanco has crusaded for historical revisionism of her role in the initial days of the disaster. She has offered up plenty of denials and alternative interpretations of events. But she never has produced publicly irrefutable and authentic evidence that exonerates her fumbling of the situation that contradicts the lengthy record that supports Rove’s statements. Thus, her vitriolic rhetoric of political bromides about Rove masks the deep anxiety that she must feel about it all, perhaps unwilling to admit to herself that her poor judgment and execution not only cost her political life, but maybe the lives of others.