Debate on Response to Katrina Creates Partisan Divide

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Partisan political calculations are shaping a clash of visions of how New Orleans should be rebuilt, says presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, who heads the Theodore Roosevelt Center at the city's Tulane University.

Bush's decision "to keep Katrina under the radar screen" and "dribble out aid" is driven by a fear of overseeing a costly foreign war and a massive domestic initiative simultaneously, Brinkley said, just as Vietnam and the Great Society program consumed the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.

Republicans look at New Orleans and see Galveston, Tex., which in 1900 was the state's largest city and the Gulf's largest port before 8,000 residents were killed by a hurricane, Brinkley said. That city was supplanted by Houston, and Brinkley believes Republicans consider it less costly to remake New Orleans as a smaller city based on tourism and its port. It could be surpassed by Baton Rouge, which is nearer Houston's petrochemical industry, set on the Mississippi River and easier to protect from future storms, Brinkley said.

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