A woman walks through chest-deep floodwater from actual Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, August 30, 2005.
Dave Martin/AP Photo

In need of better historical analogies

Updated
Earlier this week, we talked about President Obama’s detractors engaged in a years-long search for “Obama’s Watergate.” The quest hasn’t gone well, but that hasn’t stopped various political players from comparing nearly everything imaginable to the scandal that brought down Nixon.
 
That said, the search for “Obama’s Katrina” is arguably worse.
 
Earlier we discussed various veterans of the Bush/Cheney White House comparing the rollout of the Affordable Care Act to Bush’s failed response to Hurricane Katrina, and why this seems foolish. What I didn’t realize is how widespread this has become – including a segment this morning on “Obama’s Katrina” on “Good Morning America.”
 
I was reminded of this gem from MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, a political scientist at New Orleans’ Tulane University.
These days it is fashionable to use Katrina as a discursive tool.
 
In March 2009, Frank Rich wondered if AIG bonuses would become Obama’s “Katrina moment.” A few months later Politico reported that “Republicans hope General Motors is President Obama’s Hurricane Katrina,” only to be topped by the Washington Times, which asked, “Will Swine Flu Be Obama’s Katrina?” By January of this year the Wall Street Journal readily declared that the Haiti earthquake was Obama’s Katrina, while Arianna Huffington recently assured readers that it was jobs, not the BP oil spill, that would be Obama’s Katrina.
Melissa’s piece was published in August 2010 – more than three years ago.
 
The political world’s urge to rely on this comparison, alas, hasn’t gone away. Superstorm Sandy, apparently, was also supposed to be “Obama’s Katrina.” So were the 2010 midterm elections. Now it’s apparently a health care website that, the White House and consumers hope, is in the process of getting fixed. (Update: Judd Legum found a couple I’d missed.)
 
I can appreciate why Bush’s failures – like Nixon’s – resonate in the public consciousness. Presidents come and go, but the truly awful chief executives leave their inimitable mark on Americans’ memories, so it’s understandable that their greatest catastrophes linger in our minds and serve as convenient rhetorical touchstones.
 
But the scope of Bush’s neglect and incompetence before, during, and after the Katrina crisis stands out precisely because of its uniqueness. As Jamelle Bouie explained, “Healthcare.gov is not in the same ballpark, it’s not in the same league – it’s not even in the same sport. Failing to build a website that can reliably provide health care coverage to consumers – a noble goal hindered by flawed implementation – is categorically different than a non-response to a natural disaster that claimed thousands of lives.”
 

Hurricane Katrina

In need of better historical analogies

Updated