Thursday, September 01, 2005

Conduct Unbecoming

[[D I S A S T E R S]] * Echoes of my own screed from the other day, rebuking George W. Bush for his lethargic, “go on with my life” response to the mounting threat and resulting devastation from Hurricane Katrina, can now be heard in--of all publications--the New Hampshire Union Leader. I say “of all publications,” because that 142-year-old newspaper, based in Manchester, has long been recognized for its staunchly conservative opinions. Yet in a Wednesday editorial titled “Bush and Katrina: A Time for Action, Not Aloofness,” it lit into the Republican prez as splenetically as any more liberal-minded periodical:
As the extent of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation became clearer on Tuesday--millions without power, tens of thousands homeless, a death toll unknowable because rescue crews can’t reach some regions--President Bush carried on with his plans to speak in San Diego, as if nothing important had happened the day before.

Katrina already is measured as one of the worst storms in American history. And yet, President Bush decided that his plans to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VJ Day with a speech were more pressing than responding to the carnage.

A better leader would have flown straight to the disaster zone and announced the immediate mobilization of every available resource to rescue the stranded, find and bury the dead, and keep the survivors fed, clothed, sheltered and free of disease.
The paper goes on to wonder whatever happened to “the cool, confident, intuitive leadership Bush exhibited in his first term.” In its place, the Union Leader opined, “is a diffident detachment unsuitable for the leader of a nation facing war, natural disaster and economic uncertainty.”

No less biting, though perhaps more predictable, is today’s New York Times editorial, “Waiting for a Leader,” which eviscerates the prez’s weak, robotic public response to the Gulf Coast catastrophe:
George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end. ...

Sacrifices may be necessary to make sure that all these things happen in an orderly, efficient way. But this administration has never been one to counsel sacrifice. And nothing about the president’s demeanor yesterday--which seemed casual to the point of carelessness--suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis.
“White House Briefing” columnist Dan Froomkin, of The Washington Post, piles on with a lengthy recap of Good Morning America co-host Diane Sawyer’s interview with Bush this morning. Froomkin writes that this live exchange “exposed one of the president’s greatest weaknesses: He doesn’t have the answers to some of the most important questions. The White House press corps is sort of used to that by now, but the American public--clamoring for answers in the wake of the horrific Gulf Coast disaster--may be less sympathetic.”

At one point, Sawyer said to Bush: “The prospect, some people are saying, [is] of a million American refugees in place for a very long time. ... What are you saying to them about how far the federal government will go to get their lives back? Do you promise jobs? Do you promise that they will be moved back into housing and how soon?” To which Bush responded: “Well, first of all, we’ve got to get a handle on the situation. In other words, we have to stop the flooding in New Orleans and, you know, rescue the folks. Get them out of harm’s way. Get food and medicine to people. Then take a serious assessment about what it is going to need to rebuild New Orleans. And parts of Mississippi.” In other words, he ducked every aspect of Sawyer’s query, providing no reassurances to the hard-hit residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama who are having to make do in shelters and on city streets, or who have been living “like animals” in New Orleans’ Superdome while the prez soars 2,500 feet above the storm-caused ruin in Air Force One. Later, when Sawyer solicited a response from Bush to rumors of price gouging by oil companies in the aftermath of Katrina, which flooded refineries and closed pipelines all along the Gulf Coast, the ex-oil company exec refused to ask for even a modicum of sacrifice from rich fuel suppliers. Instead, he fell back on a pathetic, business-friendly wheeze: “Well, what I’d like to see in corporate America, is to make sure they contribute to helping these victims.” Can you imagine Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, or even Ronald Reagan demonstrating so little imagination and compassion in the face of an advancing crisis?

The Union Leader has it right: Such weakness in the face of disaster, and such detachment from the crying needs of a stricken public is “unsuitable for the leader of a nation.”

ADDENDUM: Surprise, surprise. A new SurveyUSA poll finds that 59 percent of Americans believe “the federal government is not doing enough to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.” An overwhelming 75 percent of respondents say officials in America’s ravaged Gulf Coast states are not prepared for the challenges ahead, while 31 percent agree with the outrageous statement uttered by U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) on Wednesday--but since retracted, sort of--that “New Orleans should not be rebuilt.”

READ MORE:Bush Taps Father, Clinton for Relief Help,” by Nedra Pickler (AP); “A Political Hurricane Is Gathering Force,” by Howard Fineman (MSNBC); “The Flyover Presidency of George W. Bush,” by Arianna Huffington (The Huffington Post); “Where Was George?,” by Michael Tomasky (The American Prospect); “The Unraveling,” by Tim Grieve (Salon); “Hurricane Katrina: Blaming Bush, Being Pro-Looting and More,” by David Corn (The Nation); “‘No One Can Say They Didn’t See This Coming,’” by Sidney Blumenthal (Salon); “Why City’s Defenses Were Down,” by John Vidal and Duncan Campbell (The Guardian); “New Orleans Died for Bush’s Sins,” by James Wolcott; “Destroying FEMA,” by Eric Holdeman (The Washington Post); “The National Guard Belongs in New Orleans and Biloxi. Not Baghdad,” by Norman Solomon (TruthOut); “Compassionate Something or Other in Action,” by Kos (Daily Kos); “The Katrina Premium: Why the Hurricane May Hurt the Economy More than 9/11,” by Daniel Gross (Slate); “After the Flood,” by Adam B. Kushner (The New Republic).

TO HELP: Donate to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts via the Network for Good Web site.


Jason said...

I wrote this before the New York Times editorial, but I'm glad that the NyTimes and I are on the same page:

America needs a Grandfather, not a CEO

In watching the President at his press conference, I was struck by his skill to organize an effective Federal response to what is one of the largest non-war related human tragedies in American history. In response to the Hurricane related flooding and damage that has effected at least 1 million people, the President has marshalled the cabinet together and relates a litany of supplies and assets that Federal agencies are rushing to the scenes. He talks about numbers of cots, medical ships, and trucks that are now being deployed in the region. It is exactly the way a CEO of a large company would react to a company wide crisis. Assemble the board. Make key decisions. Disseminate information.

This all is, of course, necessary. It is clear that the local and state authorities are overwhelmed by the shear scale of the disaster. They need the organization and the supplies that only a Federal government can offer. But, I argue the President had the right message before the wrong audience. This isn't a normal Hurricane or other natural disaster. Americans need to hear that the Feds are doing something, but they need something else.

To find what's missing, let's return to 1933. FDR took the oath of office and inherited a much larger national crisis -- the imminent failure of the nation's banking system. After declaring a Bank Holiday to stop or at least slow down the crisis. Before reopening the banks, Roosevelt held his first "Fireside Chat" on March 12th, 1933. What is startling about the speech is what you don't see: no talk of the millions of dollars in safe banks or the effort the government was making to shore up the system. Instead, you see two things: a President sitting down his nation to explain some of the mechanisms of the banking system and an overwhelming aura of compassion and authority. FDR was a master of speaking to the average person in a folksy manner that transcends his time. He speaks of "Your Government" and with an authority that your average Grandparent exudes with each breath. He was an amazing speaker and had the right message for the right time.

Now of course, the banking crisis of 1933 was a national event, and the Katrina tragedy is a regional event. However, there are two items that make this a national issue. Due to the pervasiveness of modern media such as the Internet, TV and radio, most people have seen first hand accounts of what happened and what is occurring now in a way that we have never seen before. This media exposure makes everyone feel like they are involved and the whole country feels wounded. In addition, there is credible evidence that utility and gasoline prices are about to temporarily skyrocket as a result of this tragedy. Experts were talking about $4.00 per gallon gas, which I would imagine will push at least one national airline into bankruptcy and prove a hardship for many of the nation's poor. Our President needed to speak to us like FDR did, leaving out many of the numbers and details and simply tell us that everything will be ok. We needed assurances that our government is working on the matter, and that we're going to recover and rebuild.

Our President needed to be our Grandfather, not our CEO.

gonebabygone said...

What America needs is a man who can put together a proper sentence and will give answers when he has them. Not ithhold them because he has alternate plans. It's been the same story throughout this administration, no answers. Why? BEcause they either don't have them or already have made so many atrocious errors, that they don't want to admit them. This whole "I'm a tough cowboy" attitude is bullshit and he needs to learn when to put it away and speak with compassion. Just because he shows up with his top button undone and his sleeves rolled up doesn't mean that we believe he is actually working. We aren't fooled that easily. The truth is, this president failed us miserably on our own soil and there's no way he can cover that up. Hopefully they will not be so naive as to forgive him until he lives up to his promises and the basic needs of the people are being met.

I could go on and on.