AS IF THE antebellum antics of Senator Trent Lott and President Bush were not enough, the inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina can be measured even more profoundly by the disappearance of Vice President Dick Cheney.
Lott is the senator who romanticized himself right out of the Senate majority leadership by praising the late Senator Strom Thurmond's 1948 run for president on a segregationist platform. Lott was one of those people who lost his Gulf Coast home to Katrina. That brought Lott no closer to understanding the human misery in Katrina's wake.
While New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was pleading in expletives for help from the White House and predicting that thousands of lives would be washed away, Lott had the gall to say, ''I am pleased with the federal government response."
This was matched by Bush's hop-skip-and-a-jump over the misery last Friday. The White House website features photos of Bush hugging black victims of Katrina. But Bush did not have the time, as presidents and their advance teams often do so artfully, to humanize the disaster by naming a family or unsung individuals for either heroic service or optimism for rebuilding their neighborhoods. The only victim he cited by name in stops in Mobile, New Orleans, and Biloxi was . . . Trent Lott!
''Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house," Bush said in Mobile. ''And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."
This Bush said to laughter. The only things missing were mint juleps.
Now Cheney is missing in action. For five years now, you could measure how seriously Bush took issues of great magnitude by how deeply Cheney was involved. It was Cheney who ran Bush's super-secretive energy task force. When Bush wanted a drummer to pound the false connection between Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11 into the heads of middle America, Cheney responded on the speech circuit and Sunday talk shows, as he himself likes to say, ''big time."
Cheney delivered such choice lines as:
''There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
''We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."
''We know he has a longstanding relationship with various terrorist groups, including the Al Qaeda organization."
With Cheney's cheerleading, our invasion and occupation of Iraq killed tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and has resulted in the deaths of 1,890 American soldiers with no peace in sight, but outrageous no-bid reconstruction business for Halliburton, which Cheney formerly headed. It is tragically fitting that thousands of Americans may have wasted away along the Gulf Coast partially because our finest US armed forces are not even close to cleaning up our manmade disaster that was supposed to keep America secure.
For all that Cheney had to say about the weapons of mass destruction that were never found, he has been utterly silent on Katrina. He rode out the first days of Katrina from his vacation in Wyoming. The biggest news he made, so to speak, was in a
Bush announced yesterday that he is sending Cheney to the Gulf Coast to assess whether the government did all it could do in the aftermath of Katrina. ''We want to make sure we can respond properly if there is a WMD attack or another major storm," Bush said.
That is a cruel joke. Everyone knows that if New Orleans had been wasted by terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, Cheney would have been Bush's man on the spot proclaiming our need to root out evil. No one understands this more than the mayor of New Orleans. ''We authorized $8 billion to go to Iraq lickety-quick," Nagin said in a radio interview last week. ''After 9/11, we gave the president unprecedented powers lickety-quick to take care of New York and other places. . . . you mean to tell me that a place where you probably have thousands of people that have died and thousands more that are dying every day, that we can't figure out a way to authorize the resources that we need? Come on, man."
Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is email@example.com.