Katrina. This week the President told America that he had learned the lessons of Hurricane Katrina. "I take full responsibility... I made a pledge...learn the lessons...do what it takes..." The blur of Bush's words wash over us like waves. A...
This week the President told America that he had learned the lessons of Hurricane Katrina.
"I take full responsibility... I made a pledge...learn the lessons...do what it takes..."
The blur of Bush's words wash over us like waves. A President, made unpopular by his own arrogant and failing war abroad, trying too late to salvage a fiasco of his own doing at home. A half-hearted effort that failed last year and is failing again this year.
The 'lesson' America has learned from Katrina--and we are all much smarter for it--is different than the lesson President Bush claims to have learned. The lesson we learned this week is that President Bush learns nothing.
Lesson Not Learned
No lessons learned by their President. No lessons learned. People suffered in Katrina. The President flew overhead in a plane, posed for photos looking out the window, then gave a speech in Jackson Square. In response to a rain storm: a PR storm. A year later, the same PR storm from the President. The same mistake. The same sign of indifference. The same detached, uncaring, almost inhuman politician--inexplicably unmoved by the horrific suffering of his own citizens. No change in the man.
No lessons learned.
History will remember President Bush as the man who looked in the face of disaster and tragedy that he created, and learned nothing. He was the President who could not learn.
In the case of Katrina, there were a series of opportunities--we know them now--where the President was given an opportunity to learn, but did not.
Experts told the President Katrina could break the levees in New Orleans. Nothing.
Experts told the President the people saw his response as detached, inadequate, he needed to do more. Nothing.
Experts told the President financial help for New Orleans was trapped in a bureaucratic maze. Nothing.
In each case, the lesson was the same: Listen to what we are saying and do something. And in each case, the result was the same. The President listened to what he was told, but did nothing. Even worse than doing nothing, he seemed in each case to not fully grasp the depth of national anguish, to not be moved
Spin And Nothingness
Just the President has been reading existential literature, Americans are wondering if there is anything else to George Bush besides the spin. Is he empty?
In the one interview he gave to the major media this week, President Bush had the following exchange with Brian Williams:
WILLIAMS: We always talk about what you're reading. As you know, there was a report that you just read the works of a French philosopher. (Bush laughs)
BUSH: The Stranger.
WILLIAMS: Tell us the back story of Camus.
BUSH: The back story of the the book?
WILLIAMS: What led you to...
BUSH: I was in Crawford and I said I was looking for a book to read and Laura said you oughtta try Camus, I also read three Shakespeare's.
WILLIAMS: This is a change...
BUSH: Not really. Wait a minute.
WILLIAMS: A few months ago you were reading the life story of Joe DiMaggio by Richard Ben Cramer.
BUSH: Which was a good book.
WILLIAMS: You've been on a Teddy Roosevelt reading kick.
BUSH: Well, I'm reading about the battle of New Orleans right now. I’ve got an eclectic reading list.
WILLIAMS: And now Camus?
BUSH: Well, that was a couple of books ago. Let me look. The key for me is to keep expectations low.
Americans are familiar with President Bush showing off his illiteracy. But in this most recent interview, the premise of the exchange is the President talking about the one year mark since Katrina--an opportunity to demonstrate what he could not summon the year before or anytime since: empathy.
In this moment, when he says, "I also read three Shakespeare's" it confirms that he has learned nothing. That sentence, if spoken by a two year old, would make proud parents smile. But uttered by the President in a time when he is supposedly rallying the nation to feel compassion for the victims of Hurricane Katrina--for the victims of his government's slow and incompetent response?
The interview with Williams demonstrated once again that Bush is all spin. He is pure public relations dangling in the media winds with a political anchor, but no moral anchor.
In the midst of national anxiety, President Bush is fidgeting around his summer home, looking for a 'good book' to read.
In this moment--a moment of utter seriousness for the country--Bush tosses off a one-liner about 'low expectations' when he is looking for a good book. Joking inappropriately while the nation looks on in anguish.
No lessons learned.
The Missing Call To Action
What is missing from President Bush is a Presidential call to action in the Gulf.
Today, he issued what almost seemed like an announcement by saying that there was work in New Orleans for those who were looking for jobs. This appeal by Bush for people to come to New Orleans was less effective than a photocopy posted on the White House announcement board.
In an age where the White House posts every word the President says in public on a well-managed, meticulously designed web site, it is remarkable that nobody in the entire Bush White administration thought to use the Internet to issue a call to action.
In one year, no call to action from the President.
The President has issued hundreds of orders for the National Security Agency to collect terabytes of phone calls, Internet searches and emails. But he did not issue one order to send an email to Americans asking them to come down and pitch in to clean up and rebuild New Orleans. Not one.
The missing call to action on New Orleans fits seamlessly with Bush's bizarre detachment from the pain and anguish the nation suffered. The fact that Katrina was a televised tragedy and President Bush does not watch TV--that seems to fall short as an explanation for why he has remained so detached, why he has not even begun to use his authority to make something happen for the people of New Orleans.
For years we have been suffering through talking point after talking point of Bush telling us that he is a 'decider' and a man who does whatever it takes--does everything in his power--to protect the American people. And now, it seems he has done the absolute bare minimum for an ordinary citizen--let alone the President.
Why? Why does the President care so little about New Orleans? Is he racist as Kanye West famously asserted? Does he not care about poor people? What about the old, the sick, the infirm? Does he not care about people whose homes have been destroyed? Does he not care about people from other parts of the country or other neighborhoods than where he lives?
The answer is probably a combination of all those elements. And all of it adds up to a President who is the grand achievement of a radical conservative movement within the Republican party--a movement that first reared its head in the Presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater, came to fruition in the Presidency of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, then finally found its masterpiece in two terms of Karl Rove and President George W. Bush.
President Bush's continuing reaction to Katrina demonstrates that when radical Republicans control the American federal government, people die--and they die in large numbers for a variety of different reasons.
Industries are deregulated and people die in mining accidents.
Public health programs are butchered and people die from influenza breakouts.
National security threats are ignored and people die from terrorist attacks.
Wars are waged against the advice of experts and people die by the thousands.
Hurricanes hit America's shores and people die because their government has grown disinterested.
The passion to protect the American people did not leave our government overnight. The smothering of that passion to protect was the slow, methodical and proud achievement of the radical conservative Republican movement--a movement that looks at people in need and spits at the ground.
And now we are a country that watched the bodies of innocent, good Americans floating dead in one of our great cultural capitals. We saw that.
We learned our lesson.
© 2006 Jeffrey Feldman, Frameshop