No one seriously debates anymore that President Bush plays politics with declarations of disaster areas.
Just as he neglected New Orleans, a Democratic city, while rushing to help Mississippi, a Republican-led state, after Hurricane Katrina struck, so the president has responded to the recent storms in the Midwest by first declaring federal disasters in Indiana, a state with a Republican governor.
Bush did that last week after severe storms and flooding ravaged states across the upper Midwest.
The president was not cautious about helping Hoosiers. Even before Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, a former Bush administration appointee, could dot every "i" and cross every "t" on requests for assistance, the president was scrambling to declare 29 Indiana counties -- a third of all those in the state that backed Bush in the 2000 and 2004 elections -- as eligible for federal aid.
There's nothing wrong with helping Indiana. The state needed and deserved the aid it got so quickly. And it is encouraging to see our lackadaisical commander in chief finally move in a proactive manner on something.
What is not so encouraging is Bush's loping response to the crisis in Wisconsin, a state with a Democratic governor that voted for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.
Bush declared five Wisconsin counties -- Columbia, Crawford, Vernon, Sauk and Milwaukee -- as disaster areas late Saturday.
That's good news for residents of those storm- and flood-ravaged regions.
But the president neglected to designate a sixth hard-hit county, Richland, as qualified for emergency assistance -- despite a request from Gov. Jim Doyle. And Bush has neglected to send the proper signal to Wisconsinites: an announcement that all counties where the governor has declared a state of emergency will be declared disaster areas so that residents can qualify for grants, low-interest loans and other forms of assistance for people affected by the storms.
There is no question the disaster in Wisconsin extends far beyond the five designated counties.
Gov. Doyle has already declared states of emergency for two dozen counties.
Federal aid will come, eventually.
Despite the fact that Bush plays politics when it comes to emergencies of this kind, the facts on the ground will make it impossible for the president and his aides to deny necessary assistance to Wisconsin counties -- as they did a few years ago when the weather wreaked havoc in south-central Wisconsin.
Still, the president's hyper-politicized approach is unsettling.
The root of public distrust toward Washington is a sense that politicians use the federal government as a personal and partisan plaything. George Bush's actions regularly confirm that sense and feed the distrust.
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