Sat, Sep 10, 2005 - Page 7 News List

In the aftermath of the storm, fingers are starting to point


The extraordinary showing of national and political unity displayed after the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, is missing now that Hurricane Katrina and its deadly winds have subsided, leaving behind an earthly disaster as catastrophic as the terrorist attacks themselves.

Finger-pointing and blame games have replaced the images of stunned Americans rallying around US President George W. Bush and of Congress members from across the political spectrum lined up after the 911 attacks for a symbolic singing of God Bless America on the steps of the Capitol.

The two events are similar in terms of the amount of devastation wrought -- possibly thousands of deaths, billions of dollars in structural damage and many, many lives turned upside down.

Rush to criticize

But it is the differences, observers say, that explain why a majority of the public and some lawmakers have rushed to criticize Bush's response to Katrina and the flooding and subsequent evacuation of New Orleans.

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, says the post-911 sense of unity was mostly a response to Americans feeling attacked by an external enemy.

"The biggest difference here," he said, "is we don't have an enemy to focus our anger on."

Daniel Laufer, who studies the public's response to crises, said the desire to place blame is natural, but that it's harder for people to make a scapegoat of a faceless intangible such as Mother Nature, as opposed to a real person like Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Blame bush

Two-thirds of the public, according to the latest Pew poll, and lawmakers from both of the main US political parties blame Bush, who is one face for a federal government they say was too slow to respond.

Another face is Michael Brown, the nation's disaster relief director who some lawmakers say should resign or be fired.

The federal government, in turn, has blamed both state and local officials.

In contrast, Bush's approval ratings shot up past 90 percent in the weeks after the terrorist attacks.

After 911, "there was a surge in patriotic feeling which had to do with being in a common boat," political psychologist Stanley Renshon says. While Hurricane Katrina horrified everyone, it directly damaged a particular region and not the nation as a whole.

"It's not the story of one guy on the top and how he'll respond to an unprecedented attack on the American national community," says Renshon, who teaches at the City University of New York.

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