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Commentary: Bush needs to pull a John Wayne on Katrina recovery

  • Story Highlights
  • No more paralysis by analysis, Martin says
  • Create a nerve center of operations for Katrina recovery, he says
  • Martin: It's up to President Bush
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- There was a scene from the "West Wing" that speaks to what happens when a leader says enough is enough and is moved to action.


President Bush should step up to deal with Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, says Roland S. Martin.

The fictitious president, Josiah Bartlett, watches from a distance as the Teamsters union and UPS try to reach a bargaining agreement, but nothing is happening. As he attends a state dinner, he calls them all to the White House. When he walks in, the bickering begins. After a few seconds, he essentially says, "Shut up. You guys have messed around, and I'm not going to have this nation paralyzed by your inaction. Youčre going to sit in this room until you figure it out. Now get to work. And when I return, I want to see an agreement."

Of course, this is easier said than done, and on television, everything gets solved during a one-hour show.

But the basic premise remains the same: When the president of the United States wants to step in and make something happen, he will. He is the most powerful person on the planet, so what's the problem with the Katrina recovery effort?

Bush said he was going to appoint a czar over the Gulf Coast, and he often refers to Don Powell as being that guy, but he doesn't have the power. In fact, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, says he is having to use persuasive powers -- as opposed to having the statutory power -- to make it a reality. You can't cut through red tape if you don't have a pair of scissors to do it.

So how do we make it happen?

President Bush needs to stop the back and forth taking place and order New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, certain members of Congress, Powell, and other leaders to come to Camp David, sit down, come up with a workable plan, and get it going.

He should say, "I don't care how long you guys sit in this room. I don't care how long it takes. But you are going to devise a clear and concise plan, and once youčre done, we are going to go to the Rose Garden, hold a news conference for the rest of the world to hear it and then get to work."

If there are onerous rules that are getting in the way of progress, give Powell the power to change them. If contractors are dragging their feet and doing shoddy work, fire them. Stick everyone responsible for recovery in one building and say this is the nerve center and all operations are being handled here.

It's pathetic being down here and listening to the finger-pointing, backstabbing, accusations of ineptness on the part of the city, state and federal government.

All I keep hearing is "We need a plan, we need a plan." Ask the mayor's office and they will say, "We've got a plan." Call the governor's office and they will tell you there is a plan. But when you ask to see it, no one seems to be able to come up with it.

As a result, we get spending that is out of control; waste taking place at all levels; money sent to the state that hasn't been spent; and the people who need the help, those who lost everything, ­sit in limbo.

Mr. President, you've been accused of being John Wayne. Well, act the part. Pull a John Wayne and save the day.

The only thing that is going to move this ball along is forceful leadership. And the only person who can do it is President Bush. No more paralysis by analysis. The money to build will come from the federal government. The head of the federal government is the president.

If the president truly cared, and wanted to end the bickering and inaction, he could make this happen. People are desperately waiting for someone, ­anyone, ­to step up. President Bush, youčre the commander in chief.

Command the players to get to work. Today.

Roland S. Martin is a nationally award-winning, multifaceted journalist and CNN contributor. Martin is studying to receive his master's degree in Christian Communications at Louisiana Baptist University, and is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." You can read more of his columns at

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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