Video: Disaster politics

By David Gregory Chief White House correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/24/2006 9:51:01 PM ET 2006-08-25T01:51:01

It was 9/11 that defined President George W. Bush as a strong leader.

Remember the bullhorn on Sept. 14, 2001, at ground zero? (“I can hear you!”)

Then came Katrina, and a very different image emerged. 

“Americans have every right to expect a more effective response in a time of emergency,” Bush said on Sept. 15, 2005.

Now, in this election year, both political parties are using these twin anniversaries to frame the political debate.

Democrats argue the president and his party have broken their promises to victims in the storm zone — part of a strategy to highlight the work left undone.

“There are so many basic problems that have not been resolved in allowing people to live decent lives,” says Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Some analysts argue Katrina delivered a knockout punch to the president's standing that will hurt Republicans in the fall.

“9/11 created an image of competence for George Bush, and Katrina destroyed it,” says Larry Sabato, with the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

In response to its critics, the White House on Thursday issued a memo indicating that the federal government has spent more than $100 billion on storm relief. And the president will mark the one-year anniversary by visiting New Orleans.

But it is the fifth anniversary of 9/11 that Republicans will use to keep the focus on national security — still the party's strength.

In a recent TV ad, the Republican National Committee blamed Democrats for blocking counterterror measures, concluding: “A stronger America, a safer America.”

This week, Bush even cited the Iraq war, arguing Democrats would hurt national security. 

“And there are a lot of people in the Democrat Party who believe that the best course of action is to leave Iraq before the job is done, period. And they're wrong,” said Bush on Monday.

“The President of the United States has received everything he’s asked of Democrats, and the Republicans have denied him the one thing he needed in the war on terror — oversight,” says Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill.

It's a year in which memories of two tragic events may determine the political future.

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