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

The misguided searches for Obama’s Watergate and Obama’s Katrina

On at least 10 separate occasions, President Obama’s critics have raised the prospect of various controversies constituting “Obama’s Watergate.” In reality, none of these stories actually amounted to a legitimate scandal – worse yet a crisis along the lines of Watergate – but the incessant search for an elusive White House scandal led to an unfortunate cliche.
 
Making matters slightly worse, it’s not the only misplaced historical parallel in frequent circulation
Via the Washington Free Beacon, I see that USA Today’s Susan Page used the K-word when the subject of an Obama visit to Texas came up on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown.
 
“It’s a Katrina moment, right?” said Page. “He’s going to a fundraiser, and not going to the border where there’s a crisis?”
The video of the comments are online here.
 
On the substance, it’s fair to characterize the humanitarian crisis at the border as a crisis, but to compare it to the Bush/Cheney response to Hurricane Katrina is a tough sell. It’s not as if the recent immigration problem is a result of the Obama administration’s neglect and indifference. For that matter, there’s nothing to suggest the president’s literal, physical presence at the border would actually affect the circumstances at all.
 
But the comparison appears even more misplaced when one considers just how often Americans have been confronted by chatter about “Obama’s Katrina.”
 
It was just last fall when Ron Fournier insisted troubles with healthcare.gov were comparable to the Katrina disaster – an argument that appeared painfully foolish at the time, and which looks even worse with the benefit of hindsight.
 
But that’s just the start. Superstorm Sandy was billed as Obama’s Katrina. The 2010 midterms were described as Obama’s Katrina. The BP oil spill was Obama’s Katrina. Four years ago, msnbc’s Melissa Harris-Perry found quite a few more:
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.
Dave Weigel and Judd Legum have found others.
 
As we talked about last year, 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. There’s simply nothing comparable from the Obama era.
 

Hurricane Katrina

The misguided searches for Obama's Watergate and Obama's Katrina