George W. Bush admitted today that the federal response to Katrina wasn't what it should have been. Good for him. Let's try not to believe this out-of-character move is related to his sagging poll numbers and the fact he has to name another Supreme Court justice in the coming weeks.
Perhaps Bush finally has recognized that if he ever had a mandate from his skimpy victory at the polls last November, it no longer exists. With John Roberts likely headed for an easy confirmation as chief justice, Bush has to know that the Senate's continued good will is predicated on him NOT opting for an ideologue for the second court vacancy. So it'll be interesting to see which way he goes - whether he chooses a moderate conservative in the Sandra Day O'Connor tradition or a polarizing figure. His decision will show whether he's really entering a new, more humble phase of his presidency, or whether we are doomed to another three years of endless partisan rancor.
It all ties together: The rise of the tax-cutting, chest-thumping neocons is THE reason why Americans lost what unity we had after September 11, and THE reason why the stripped-down federal government was unable to respond to a major emergency as it must.
UPDATE: E.J. Dionne at The Washington Post is saying the same thing. A snip: "The breaking of the Bush spell opens the way for leaders of both parties to declare their independence from the recent past. It gives forces outside the White House the opportunity to shape a more appropriate national agenda -- for competence and innovation in rebuilding the Katrina region and for new approaches to the problems created over the past 4 1/2 years."