Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Brazile: Bush came through on Katrina

By Donna Brazile, Special to CNN
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Thu April 25, 2013
President Bush hugs a Hurricane Katrina survivor in September, 2005, at a shelter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
President Bush hugs a Hurricane Katrina survivor in September, 2005, at a shelter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile's siblings, father, uncle, aunts, and other relatives lost everything in Katrina
  • Brazile: "Heckuva job" came to mean bungled rescue, incompetence and public distrust
  • But Brazile joined forces with Bush after he vowed to help and he was true to his word
  • Bush provided generous aid and often came back to Gulf states and New Orleans, she says

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pot in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- Despite the many differences I had with former President George W. Bush on a range of public policy issues, or as he called them, "decision points," I found common ground with him in one area, simply because we decided to put aside partisanship and do something good.

Hurricane Katrina's devastation and the bungled rescue efforts are seared in the national memory. Bush's "heckuva job" remark turned into a byword for government incompetence and public distrust. The shallowness of it coming at such a terrible and low point left deep wounds that are still healing. That was what it was.

But rather than rehash all that went wrong, I want to share what I believe to have been President Bush's determination to follow up on commitments, and the intense, personal, dedicated efforts he made to revive and restore people's futures. I know what I'm talking about.

Bush 43: 'History will ultimately judge'

Kathleen Blanco, Louisiana's governor in 2005, asked me to serve on the state's commission overseeing the long-term recovery from the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. I've kept a close watch over the last eight years.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Hurricane Katrina wasn't one natural disaster: It was a triple whammy of water, winds and lawlessness. An Army Corps engineer on CBS talked this week about Midwest flooding: "Water is the perfect instrument of destruction," he said. He is so right: Katrina's waters laid waste to an area the size of Great Britain. Its winds reached 174 mph and, together, they took 1,833 lives.

Every member of my family was displaced by Katrina. Last year, I lost both my father and sister. But I had them with me that much longer because they were rescued from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. My father, Lionel, left New Orleans only two times in his life. The first was to serve his country in Korea. The second was when FEMA evacuated him to San Antonio, Texas.

How will history remember George W. Bush?

My older sister, Sheila -- people sometimes thought we were twins, we looked so much alike -- was in an assisted care home. Sheila developed a brain tumor in childhood. Brain surgery left her needing help, although she still managed to finish high school and college. When FEMA officials told me it might be weeks before we found Sheila, I was furious.

Bitterness can corrode the soul. A grudge is like the chains on Marley's ghost.
Donna Brazile

CNN's Wolf Blitzer made a public plea for nearby citizens to see if the residents had survived. Eddie Rodriguez of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and our cousin, Keith, a cop, rescued her from the building's rooftop. Most other residents had left before her. Sheila wouldn't leave until she saw someone she knew. Like so many others, she was relocated to Baton Rouge.

My 92-year-old great uncle Henry, a WWII vet, was plucked from another rooftop and transported to Roswell, Georgia, only to suffer a heart attack. All seven of my remaining siblings, my father, uncle, aunts, and other relatives, lost everything in Katrina. I was upset -- mad as hell -- and disappointed But, I made a decision not to act out -- act against Bush -- but rather to turn to his administration for help, and to offer my help.

"Mr. President," I said, "how can I help you?"

"Civility," he said.

Opinion: Jury is still out on Bush

Bitterness can corrode the soul. A grudge is like the chains on Marley's ghost. We can carry these chains in life and they weigh us down. President Obama and former President Bush have been working for eight years to change the atmosphere in Washington, to get Congress to move beyond pride and party.

Bush understood the need for civility. I joined him despite my frustration because the need was too great for finger-pointing and blame-making.
Donna Brazile

So far, not even disasters or tragedies that have united the American people -- Hurricane Sandy, Sandy Hook, and Boston -- have moved the politicians. Not enough, anyway.

Bush understood the need for civility. I joined him despite my frustration because the need was too great for finger-pointing and blame-making. He flew to New Orleans and addressed the nation: "Tonight I also offer this pledge to the American people: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives."

Glimpse at a White House before everything changed

George W. Bush was good as his word. He visited the Gulf states 17 times; went 13 times to New Orleans. Laura Bush made 24 trips. Bush saw that $126 billion in aid was sent to the Gulf's residents, as some members of his own party in Congress balked.

Bush put a special emphasis on rebuilding schools and universities. He didn't forget African-Americans: Bush provided $400 million to the historically black colleges, now integrated, that remain a pride, and magnet for African-American students. Laura Bush, a librarian, saw to it that thousands of books ruined by the floods were replaced. To this day, there are many local libraries with tributes devoted to her efforts.

It was a team effort. I'm glad to report the commission I served on went out-of-business in 2010. I'm also grateful and proud to report that President Bush was one of the leaders, and a very important member, of that team. Our recovery can be credited to the civility and tireless efforts of President Bush and other Americans, who united and worked together to help rebuild the Gulf and the place of my birth, New Orleans.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT