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Commentary: Bush's goal should be rebuilding Gulf Coast

  • Story Highlights
  • Roland Martin: Bush doesn't acknowledge how disastrous Katrina response was
  • While many were rescued, hundreds died and region was devastated, he says
  • Federal government failed to take needed measures to speed aid, Martin says
  • Martin: Bush should dedicate his post-presidency to rebuilding Gulf Coast
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: A nationally syndicated columnist, Roland S. Martin is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith" and "Speak, Brother! A Black Man's View of America." Visit his Web site for more information.

Roland S. Martin says Bush hasn't admitted the disastrous failure of the response to Hurricane Katrina.

Roland S. Martin says Bush hasn't admitted the disastrous failure of the response to Hurricane Katrina.

(CNN) -- Since we heard so much about pigs and lipstick during the general election campaign, courtesy of Sarah Palin, I've tried hard not to use the often-recited reference in a column or on TV or radio since.

But after listening to President George W. Bush try mightily to characterize the federal response to Hurricane Katrina as swift and fast, there is no doubt that this cowboy is trying his best to paint a coat of lipstick on that pig, and it is still a smelly, snortin' pig.

There is little doubt that Bush's greatest international failure, the Iraq War, resulted from those weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist. Bush, his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney were adamant that Saddam Hussein had them, that nothing else mattered when it came to invading Iraq.

Now, if we had to determine his absolute worst domestic failure, nothing comes close to the aftermath of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina.

There are a lot of horrible things that happen each day and blow past with a whir, but the haunting images of bodies floating in floodwaters; of men, women and children screaming with all their might on rooftops, and of the disgraceful conditions in the Louisiana Super Dome will resonate in our spirits for a lifetime.

Yet each time he was asked about it, the Great Decider could not bring himself to be honest and forthright about his failure of leadership.

At his last official news conference, after wondering what he could have done differently, Bush offered this incredible response: "I've thought long and hard about Katrina -- you know, could I have done something differently, like land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. The problem with that and -- is that law enforcement would have been pulled away from the mission."

Land your plane? That's it? Not take charge of the situation. Not clear the roads to allow buses, food and water to get in. Not send in troops and put everyone in the Super Dome on a bus and take them to a nearby military base. No, you've thought about it and all you can come up with is, "I should have landed my plane?"

Then Bush, his voice rising and jabbing his finger on the lectern for emphasis, offered this gem.

"People said, well, the federal response was slow. Don't tell me the federal response was slow when there was 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed. Thirty thousand people were pulled off roofs right after the storm moved through. It's a pretty quick response."

Isn't it interesting that Bush failed to mention 1,300 bodies were recovered? He's trying to hang his hat on those rescued, and praise the Lord for that, but that's like former President Bill Clinton saying his action to stop genocide in Rwanda saved several thousand lives after 800,000 were slaughtered.

I would have far more respect for Bush in this regard if he could simply look in the camera and say, "We failed. The state, the city and the federal government, we all failed. And folks, I failed. And my greatest regret was not stepping in and making sure all that was necessary got done."

Yet the man who has refused to admit mistakes just can't do that.

It is my desire that as Bush rides off into the sunset, focusing on his presidential library, he makes rebuilding the Gulf Coast his primary post-presidential role. Clinton has his Global Initiative, targeting the health needs in Africa.

Bush should spend his time in New Orleans, the rural parts of Louisiana, and portions of Mississippi and Alabama helping to rebuild homes, offering to do fundraisers, as well making it his mission to oversee the revitalization of this important region.

He clearly failed when he was president. Maybe he can take advantage of this second chance.

Mr. President, stop with the excuses. You failed. Now do some good where it is sorely needed.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.

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