(I post this despite there being another diary already up that deals with the same subject. I think the two approaches to the same topic are different enough so as not to conflict with each other).

Can I believe my eyes and ears. Can George W. Bush actually be taking responsibility for a failure? In a joint press conference today with the President of Iraq, Mr. Bush took on an air of contrition not at all in character for the swaggering “bring `em on” president.

Excerpts from the president’s startling sudden attack of humility are summarized by the
Associated Press below:

President Bush said Tuesday that “I take responsibility” for failures in dealing with Hurricane Katrina and said the disaster raised broader questions about the government’s ability to respond to natural disasters as well as terror attacks.

“Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government,” Bush said at joint White House news conference with the president of Iraq.

“To the extent the federal government didn’t fully do its job right, I take responsibility,” Bush said…

“Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack? That’s a very important question and it’s in the national interest that we find out what went on so we can better respond,” Bush replied…

It was the closest Bush has come to publicly finding fault with any federal officials involved in the hurricane response, which has been widely criticized as disjointed and slow. Some federal officials have sought to fault state and local officials for being unprepared to cope with the disaster.

But wait. There’s more. Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff had some uncharacteristic words of his own:

Chertoff said that teams of federal auditors were being dispatched to the stricken areas to make sure that billions of dollars worth of government contracts were being properly spent. “We want to get aid to people who need it quickly, but we also don’t want to lose sight of the importance of preserving the integrity of the process and our responsibility as stewards of the public money,” Chertoff said.

“We’re going to cut through red tape,” he said, “but we’re not going to cut through laws and rules that govern ethics.”

This from an administration that has been scarcely secretive in handing out lucrative no-bid contracts to its corporate campaign contributors while turning a blind eye to overt fraud, theft and padded books? Strange thing are happening.

So just what is going on here? I venture now into the realm of pure conjecture, but I think the White House has suddenly realized that they are in a world of trouble that spin and finger-pointing will not extricate them from, not this time. I suspect they have done some internal polling that has forced them to make this abrupt about-face so uncharacteristic of the Bush White House. The new ABC News/Washington Post is only the most recent to suggest that the Bush administration and its policies are in a free-fall. Today’s White House press conference suggests to me that the White House is taking these polls (and probably some internal ones as well) very seriously. Here are some highlights from The ABC News/Washington Post poll:

  • Bush’s job approval rating now stands at 42%, his lowest ever, and down from 45% at the end of August. At one time it was at 92%.; 57% disapprove, an all-time high, and up from 53% at the end of August. After 9/11 only 6% disapproved of his job performance.
  • Only 38% now approve of his performance regarding the Iraq war, another all-time low, and down from 42% in August. 62% disapprove, an all-time high, and up from 53% in late August. In better times (for Bush) 75% approved of his handling of Iraq versus only 22% who did not. So what was once a 53-point positive spread for Bush is now a 24-point negative spread – an incredible 77-point reversal for him.
  • 50% approve of the job Bush is doing on “the campaign against terrorism” versus 47% who do not. That sounds high until you realize that the 50% is an all-time low for him, and that after 9/11 he enjoyed a 92% approval rating on terrorism and only a 5% disapproval rating.

And now for Katrina:

  • 44% approve of Bush’s handling of this catastrophe (down from 46% on 9/2) while 54% disapprove (up from 47%).
  • 62% think the federal government did a not so good or poor job here. Only 5% think it did an excellent job (down from 11% on 9/2) versus 34% who think it did a poor job (up from 28% on 9/2).
  • 63% think the Bush administration does not have a clear plan for dealing with the hurricane situation; up from 55% on 9/2
  • 45% think Bush deserves some level of personal blame for the federal response, up from 43% on 9/2.
  • 50% think the situation shows a serious problem in the federal government’s emergency preparedness
  • 76% want to see an investigation by an independent commission and 71% think a congressional investigation will get bogged down in partisan politics
  • 54% are not confident that adequate controls exist to avoid waste and fraud in the use of federal money in the hurricane relief effort.

President Bush likes to say that he doesn’t pay attention to polls. I humbly submit that today’s mea culpa by Bush, limited though it was, and Chertoff’s sudden interest in keeping contractors honest, suggest that this is an administration that is suddenly in panic mode. They are reading the polls, and they are frightened, and they are reacting.

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