National: Bush, Drunk Driving and Katrina
I think it was Santa Claus who said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (Was it Santa Claus? Oh no, that’s right--it was Santayana. I always get those two confused--Santayana is the one who brings up the past; Santa Claus is the one who brings down the present.)
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, right, condemned to repeat the past. The scene: a police station somewhere in the vicinity of New Orleans. The time: late one night in the early 1970s, during the months that George W. Bush went AWOL from the National Guard. There has been a deadly accident.
Hauled up by local Louisiana police on drunk driving charges, a totally plastered, cocaine-impaired young Bush is being questioned by an outraged sheriff’s deputy. Also being interrogated are Bush’s drunken young buddies Mike Chertoff (Bush, decades later, will appoint Chertoff Secretary of the Homeland Security) and Michael “Brownie” Brown (whom Bush will one day appoint director of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.) Both were with Bush in his vehicle at the time of the accident. Bush, still wearing his vomit and cocktail-stained flight suit, is supported (literally) by Chertoff and Brown.
Their responses to the officer’s questions are interesting. As you read what follows, you may notice how similar remarks by the accused are to their public remarks thirty years later in the wake of Katrina. In fact, in most cases, they are direct quotes from Bush, Chertoff and Brown. The past, repeating itself…
Officer: You boys in a whole world of trouble tonight. We got a hell of a lot of dead bodies back there. Now tell me the truth, you were asleep at the wheel, weren’t y’all? Who was driving? Who was in charge?
Bush: Look, there will be plenty of time to play the blame game. That's what you're trying to do. You're trying to say somebody is at fault. And, look, I want to know. I want to know exactly what went on and how it went on, and we'll continually assess—
Officer: We got people on the scene right now, they’s still people dyin’ out there, don’t y’all realize that?!
Brown: Officer, it’s an absolutely fair question. We just learned about those people today.
Chertoff: Uhm, you know, officer, the one thing about an episode like this is if you talk to someone and you get a rumor or you get someone's anecdotal version of something, I think it's dangerous to extrapolate (his voice trails off)
Bush: But you know my mom says so many of the people in the area here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this (chuckle) – this is working very well for them.
Officer: Which one a you punks was asleep at the wheel?
Bush: My impression of the disaster is this: that there is a recovery on the way.
And it is preposterous to claim that the war in Iraq is leaving too few troops to help out with this tragedy. And I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.
Officer: What levees? What the hell you talkin’ about, boy? “Iraq”? Man, you still coked to the gills, ain’tcha?
Bush: Let me clarify that last remark. There was an initial impression that the area had escaped heavy damage and I myself thought we had dodged a bullet.
Officer: We got still got guys out there clearin’ bodies away! They’s dead bodies all over the streets of N’Awlins!
Bush: It's devastating, it's got to be doubly devastating on the ground. I'm satisfied with the response, I'm not satisfied with all of the results.
Chertoff: Louisiana is a city that is largely under water.
Bush: He means New Orleans, officer. But I believe New Orleans, the town I come to, to enjoy myself, occasionally too much – will be that very same town, it will be a better place to come to.
(Suspect Brown vomits on the officer’s shoes.)
Bush: Brownie, you’re doin’ a heck of a job. (Bush sees look on officer’s face.) Okay then, Brownie, I’m sorry, but you’re fired.
Officer: (collars Brown as he attempts to stagger out of the station) Where the hell do you think you’re going?
Brown: I'm going to go home and walk my dog and hug my wife, and maybe get a good Mexican meal and a stiff margarita and a full night's sleep.
Officer: You gonna stay right here, you moron, until I get done talkin’ to you!
Brown: (wagging his finger at officer) This story’s not about me. (sobs) I don’t know why I am being fired. You’ll have to ask Mr. Chertoff about that.
Officer: How come you didn’t stop and get help for all them black folks who got hurt in the accident?
Bush: My attitude is this: this accident didn't discriminate, and neither will the recovery effort.
Officer: You idiots must be outta your minds on somethin’, that for sure!
Bush: We've got to keep moving forward. And I know there has been a lot of second-guessing. I can assure you I'm not interested in that. What I'm interested in is solving problems. And there'll be time to take a step back and to take a sober look at what went right, what didn't go right. (hands the officer a card) Now call this number, officer. I got a lotta heavy political and media connections, they’ll get me out of this.
William Prendergast is the author of the crime thriller “Forbidden Hollywood” and he agrees with the sentiments of Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish in Louisiana: "Take whatever idiot they have at the top, give me a better idiot. Give me a caring idiot. Give me a sensitive idiot. Just don't give me the same idiot."