mornin' ma'm. You've noted the sort of responses to Katrina (and other earlier events/decisions) which seem to be common to folks looking in at the US from outside. I expect you have a lot of that right, too. If there was some magical means of measuring the number of times per day Americans abroad - ambassadorial staffs, artists, NGO folks, etc - felt utterly shamed at their country's leaders' actions, I can't think what historical period would match this one. kelticwizard looks at the response to Katrina from the vantage point inside America.
The response to 9/11 was the foundation of Bush's popularity. Katrina exposed it. That is the main reason for Bush's popularity fall.
I think so. But I'll toss in a couple of other factors that seem to me to pop out in relief.
Your point goes to competence. Specifically, competence in protecting American citizens where they live in their communities. The explicit and implicit claims/promises regarding how governmental reorganization post 9-11 constituted significant improvements to this end came pretty badly acropper - and very visibly so. But I think there is more to it. I'll posit four other tightly related elements (trying and finally failing to avoid the cliche of Katrina as 'the perfect storm)... administration principals nowhere to be seen; the cronyism element; class and race inequalities; the media; the wizard of oz curtain unveiling thing.
1) administration principals nowhere to be seen
The days it took for these numbskulls to understand the level of civic and human disaster had a huge PR consequence for how they were perceived as leaders. They looked uninvolved and uncaring. They behaved, or seemed to, very much like powdered-wig 17th century aristocrats, content in their selfish wealth and priviledge. This perception hit directly into the heart of the image which their PR machine has been working to create for rather a long time...we could go back a ways and recall that during the 92 Republican convention in Houston reporters were kept away from certain areas of the airport so that they wouldn't be able to photograph all the fatcat private jets landing. Wrong image altogether.
Bush Jr's image-makers had been very successful in convincing many Americans that gosh, heck, he'd grown up a simple fella there in texas who didn't have much use for Washington types and for learnin' and he just kind of wanted to drive his truck, toss back the odd beer, and engage in humble conversations with the plastic jesus hanging from his rear-view mirror. A real American, in other words. The truth, of course, was just about completely opposite, except for the learnin' part.
Even if we look at Bush's post 9-11 response (which you compare Katrina to) we can see the image people furiously busy, at the time and in terms of myth-creation later. What, after all, did he do? He used photo-ops well. He got on TV lots and spoke inspirational words written by his image people. He set to facilitating war with Afghanistan and Iraq. He told Americans to go shopping. And of course, all of that followed upon the ten blank-eyed minutes in that elementary schoolroom, and the hours after when he disappeared. There are uncomfortable similarities between the post 9-11 response and the Katrina response and they relate directly to problems with Bush's personal competence. When not scripted, he looks as incompetent as he is. And that level of incompetence in the Presidency is really not much different from having no one there.
2) the cronyism element
"You're doing a great job, brownie". There's a quote for this presidency. If Bush had not said this on TV (some image-maker's idea of showing Bush on top of it, full of care, and with a great team supporting him) then I think the PR disaster of Katrina would have been considerably less. It pointed out, as time went by over the next while, just how opposite from the desired image the reality really was. It demonstrated how positions of trust and responsibility were handed out for partisan reasons, family friendship reasons, ideological reasons, etc. Wrong reasons - if one considers that government ought to really be about the betterment of opportunities for citizens and not about the oligarchical control of priviledge and wealth.
3) class and race
This element is tied directly to the others above. The social distance between the Arabian Horse Association/Yale sorority life of Bush/Brownie and that of the folks we all saw in New Orleans is unbreachable. It put the lie to PR attempts to portray Bush and his administration as regular people. Americans understood, I think, in a way that many hadn't really faced, how the folks in charge really might not be motivated by the common peoples' best interests. Particularly if poor and if black. "Compassion" has been a central promise from Bush and modern conservatism, and all the ways in which that promise was shown to be betrayed - really little more than PR - during Katrina hit home for citizens. And the press noted this because it was such a contradiction to the traditional understanding of the role that government ought to have in Americans' lives.
4) the press
Katrina marked a distinct change in how the press spoke to power in the US. Many newscasters and print press on site in Louisiana and working out of their offices were personally moved and offended by all the above, and they began yelling. Where benefit of the doubt had been given Bush and his administration so often before, and where deference had been shown to the office of the Presidency, now these civil servants were under daily attack for their abject failings to fulfill their contracts as leaders in American democracy as understood by the people.
5) wizard of oz thing
Bush was now perceived in a reality-based light. All the PR machinations became much more visible, if not in specifics, in general. The majority of citizens now do not trust Bush to be competent or even honest. He's seen increasingly to be a little guy who can't fill the shoes of his post and whose loud bells and whistles PR deceptions ring hollow and false.