On Thursday afternoon after Hurricane Katrina hit, House members got an e-mail that the House was convening in special session the next day to pass emergency Katrina relief. The e-mail gave a big wink and nod that we didn't really need to come, that there would only be a voice vote so no one would ever known whether we showed up or not.
It wasn't convenient, but I kind of thought it was my job to show up, and Raleigh is only 40 minutes or so flying time from Washington, so I went.
We had a quick debate and a voice vote, and then other members were allowed to speak after the vote. I wanted to express my sympathy for the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, especially since many North Carolinians have suffered greatly from hurricanes in the last decade.
So when it was my turn to speak, this is what I said:
"...Mr. Speaker, I share the anger of many Americans at how shamefully inadequate our government's response has been. Tens of thousands of Americans are living outside the walls of civilization. They are without food, they are without water to drink, they are without medicine or medical care, they are without effective shelter, they are without the protection against violence that law provides.
"The failures that led to that are not the failures of the last four days; but of the last four years.
"There have been repeated warnings that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast were vulnerable to precisely what has occurred and yet our government was stunningly unprepared."
I then rattled off all the members who had just said "now is not the time for finger pointing." No, finger pointing would be partisanship in the face of a national tragedy. How distasteful.
I've never been one to flinch at the charge of partisanship, so I raised the distasteful subject:
"...Mr. Speaker, there has to come a time for accountability. If there is not accountability for the stunning failures that we have seen in our government's response to this hurricane, we will fail again and again.
"I know that this administration thinks that accountability is an ephemeral thing. If there is an attempt at accountability too soon, it's finger pointing. If there is an attempt at accountability too late, then it's something you should get over. There is just a moment for accountability.
"Mr. Speaker, tell me when that moment will be. Tell me precisely when the moment will come for accountability for the failures of our response, for the failures of our planning that have led to the devastation and the hardships that we are seeing now.
"And Mr. Speaker, tell me where the line forms to ask hard questions. I yield back the balance of my time."
So where do things stand with accountability now, six months later?
I'm sure you've seen the video in the last day or two of administration officials warning President Bush in the hours before Katrina made landfall that the levees surrounding New Orleans might not hold and the consequences of a failure of the levees would be catastrophic. A story in the Washington Post this morning said that "to critics...[the video] reinforces the conclusion that the government at its highest levels failed to respond aggressively enough to the danger bearing down on New Orleans."
But the Administration was ready with its response to the video:
"...Bush advisers worry that it will reopen old wounds and complicate the President's efforts to bring together quarreling parties to focus on reconstructing the city and the region.
"'We're going back over very, very old ground," said White House spokesman Trent Duffy. "The real danger here is it threatens to unravel the good relations we've built with state and local officials.'"
Yes, it would really be distasteful partisanship to try to gain political advantage by opening old wounds. So as predicted, the moment for accountability as come and gone.
And we missed it.
My friends all say I'm insufferable when I'm right.