For Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), three images define George W. Bush's presidency: Bush throwing out the first pitch of the 2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium, Bush with a megaphone atop the rubble of the World Trade Center -- and Bush staring out the window as Air Force One traversed the Gulf Coast thousands of feet above the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.Thanks for that helpful thought, Republican congressman McHenry. But make no mistake about it, the spinning of the one-year anniversary of Katrina is underway by the Republican machine:
The first two images epitomize strength and resolution, the image the Bush White House likes to cultivate. But in one year's time, the last one -- of the president as aloof, out of touch, even befuddled -- all but erased the memory of the others, according to pollsters, pundits and Republican politicians who say they have suffered in the wake of the president's decline.
The president will appear Monday and Tuesday on the Gulf Coast to mark the first anniversary of the hurricane. To the White House, the president has a strong story to tell: approval of more than $110 billion in resources for the Gulf region, 12 previous visits to the region by Bush and 82 by members of his Cabinet, the restoration of more than 220 miles of New Orleans's flood walls and levees, the floodproofing of pumping stations, and the addition of floodgates to protect against storm surges.Watch the spinning over the next few days with a critical eye, please.
Bush aides said the president will accept responsibility for the botched federal response while stressing that the government has learned from the Katrina mistakes and promising to see through the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast.
White House counselor Dan Bartlett said it is difficult to separate the impact of Katrina from the Iraq war and the other problems that have pulled down Bush's approval rating. "It was a setback at the time, but it was recoverable and has been," Bartlett said.