Bush’s America is gone with the wind. It lasted just short of four years, from Sept. 11, 2001, to Aug. 29, 2005. The devastation of New Orleans was the watery equivalent of a dirty bomb, but Hurricane Katrina approached the homeland with advance warnings, scientific anticipation and a personal briefing of the president by the director of the National Hurricane Center, alerting him about a possible breaching of the levees. It was as predictable as though Osama bin Laden had phoned in every detail to the television networks. No future terrorist attack would or could be as completely foreseen as Katrina.Blumenthal opines that the prez was betrayed during the run-up to Katrina, and also in its aftermath, by his simplistic devotion to the conservative credo “government is not a solution to our problem.” Caught out for having failed to respond long ago to warnings of a possible levee breach in New Orleans, and for installing unqualified personnel at FEMA, Bush couldn’t maintain his artifice of decisiveness and strength.
Bush’s entire presidency and reelection campaign were organized around one master idea: He stood as the protector and savior of the American people under siege. On this mystique he built his persona as a decisive man of conviction and action. In the 2004 election, a critical mass of voters believed that because of his unabashed patriotism and unembarrassed religiosity he would do more to protect the country. They also believed that his fervor must be strength. The criticism of Bush that he was overzealous, simplistic and single-minded only served to reinforce his image.
The deepest wound is not that he was incapable of defending the country but that he has shown he lacks the will to do so. In Bush’s own evangelical language, he revealed his heart.
So long as Bush could wrap himself in 9/11 his image was shielded; he could even justify Iraq by flashing the non sequitur to his base. But once another event of magnitude thundered over his central claim as national defender, the Bush myth crumbled. It would take another event of this scale to begin to restore it. But it would also require a different set of responses from Bush. Now his evocation of 9/11 only reminds the public of his failed promise.Strong words. Let’s see if they prove true. After all, Blumenthal wrote an equally confident Salon column in late October 2004, headlined: “The Unmaking of the President: Why the Incumbent Who Should Have Won in a Cakewalk Is Headed for Defeat Next Week.” And we all know what came of that prediction.
The rest of the Bush presidency will consist of his strained efforts to cobble his myth together again while others cope with the consequences of his damage. The hurricane has tossed and turned the country but will not deposit it on firm ground for at least the three and half years remaining of the ruined Bush presidency.
READ MORE: Another day, another poll. This one’s a New York Times/CBS News survey, which continues the recent downward trend of Bush’s popularity. “For the first time,” the Times reports, “just half of Americans approve of Mr. Bush’s handling of terrorism, which has been his most consistent strength since he scored 90 percent approval ratings in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 6 in 10 now say that he does not share their priorities for the country, 10 percentage points worse than on the eve of his re-election last fall, while barely half say he has strong qualities of leadership, about the same as said so at the early low-ebb of his presidency in the summer of 2001. ... Taken together, the numbers suggest that a public that has long seen Mr. Bush as a determined leader, whether it agreed with him or not, has growing doubts about his capacity to deal with pressing problems.” According to this poll, only 41 percent of Americans approve of the prez’s performance, while 53 percent disapprove.