The words, weeks overdue, were right. The true test of President Bush's commitment to the recovery of New Orleans, though, rests in his ability to fit actions and dollars to those words. The true test of the national response to this tragedy rests in whether lessons learned can be applied to ensure better response to the next disaster -- natural or man-made.
Bush deserves credit for a stirring speech Thursday night that set the right tone for recovery on the Gulf Coast. The president also forcefully claimed responsibility for the shortfalls in federal response -- and for the solutions that must be devised in the days ahead. The speech would have meant much, much more delivered in the first hours of the flooding that devastated the Gulf region. This president has a history of reacting slowly but rallying as information arrives and public reaction forms. It's also important to note what was missing from the president's speech. He pledged a full review of federal mistakes, but said little about how the system can or will be changed to improve reactions. A full bipartisan and independent investigation is minimal, like that done by the 9/1 1 commission. Failures came from all levels of government.
His $200 billion-plus recovery effort puts him in conflict with his less-government supporters and puts pressure on issues from attempts to repeal the estate tax to long-term funding commitments to the Iraq War.
Rebuilding New Orleans will indeed be a major task that should lead to a better city, not just a reconstructed one. Bush forthrightly noted the roots of the Katrina-exposed poverty "in a history of racial discrimination," and pounced on this chance for improvement. He faces a test that started well with Thursday's words, but his recovery from two weeks of wanderings now must continue with money and action.