Melissa Harris-Perry, 5/4/13, 10:45 AM ET

New Orleans experiences rebirth, but not because of Bush

In her “Open Letter” segment, host Melissa Harris-Perry takes aim at how an exhibit at President George W. Bush’s presidential library portrays his administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

President Bush, a library exhibit can’t fix your Katrina decisions

Updated

The George W. Bush Presidential Library opened to the public on Wednesday in Dallas, Texas. And since then, we’ve been learning a lot more about what is inside. Which gives me an opportunity to make note of one particular exhibit, in the form of a letter.

Dear President George W. Bush,

It’s me, Melissa.

Congratulations on the opening of your library. Now maybe you’ll go inside one.

You have long held that history will be the ultimate judge of the decisions you made while president. But with the Decision Points Theater exhibit at your library, it looks like you are planning to give history a little nudge in a direction you find favorable.

You are still pushing decade old so-called “intelligence” to justify your decision point to invade Iraq. But I’m sorry, Mr. President: There simply were no weapons of mass destruction. That was an ”Oops! My bad!” that cost $2 trillion and nearly 4,500 U.S. lives.

But as a resident of post-Katrina New Orleans, the one decision point that really has me fired up is how your library represents the choices you faced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. According to your exhibit the main problem you faced was how to restore law and order. The big issue that visitors are asked to resolve, is whether or not you should have invoked the Insurrection Act to control the looters.

Oh, yeah? Looting was the big problem?

As much as 80% of the city was flooded. Nearly a thousand Louisiana residents died, many in their own homes, drowned by storm surges that breached inadequate federal levees. Many thousands more were trapped in the Superdome and Convention Center for days without food, medicine, water, electricity, or working bathrooms.

And you were trying to figure out whether or not to quell an insurrection? These people were Americans, Mr. President. Homeowners, taxpayers, voters. Your people and you were vacationing while they drowned. The decision you should have been making, sir, wasn’t on how to quell them. It was how to save them.

But hey, even if you completely bungled the immediate response, you did come on down to New Orleans after the storm to give a rousing speech in Jackson Square. You promised to uncover the facts, to rebuild the infrastructure, and to make sure that New Orleans emerged from the storm with egalitarian resiliency.

Well, Dubya—I am not sure if you have bothered to even take a flyover of the Lower Ninth Ward recently, but let’s be clear: equality of recovery is not the best description for the realities in New Orleans.

Not that I’m complaining. One thing is for sure, the people of my city didn’t wait around for you to keep your promise. They formed community organizations, reopened schools, lobbied for more resources, litigated for greater fairness, and rebuilt their lives one sheet of dry wall at a time. But the struggle continues.  Nearly eight years after you were considering that law and order decision, our city has the second highest rate of homelessness in the nation.

As for you eight years later? Well, here’s what you recently told CNN’s John King:

“You learn that life doesn’t end after you’re president…In other words, you’re going a hundred miles an hour and, and, in my case, we woke up in Crawford and now it’s going zero. And so the challenge is how to live life to its fullest.”


Well, that’s cool, Mr. President. I am glad that you are slowing down, catching your breath and finding a way to live life to the fullest. In the meantime, tens of thousands of New Orleanians are still trying to find a way home, still displaced by the policies of your administration, still reeling from the failures of your decisions.

But hey, “Heckuva job, Dubya.”

Sincerely,

Melissa

At the close of Thursday’s edition of “The Rachel Maddow Show,” Melissa also explored the new Bush Library exhibit, and the former president’s Hurricane Katrina legacy. See the video below.

President Bush, a library exhibit can't fix your Katrina decisions

Updated