Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bush's prime-time promises

Make what you will of Bush's speech this evening. Personally, I didn't think much of it. I don't doubt his compassion, and he may have said the right things ("there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans"), but I can't get past his obvious incompetence and the utter lack of leadership he showed after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. He was right to say that "[Katrina] was not a normal hurricane, and the normal disaster relief system was not equal to it," but consider this:

It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority, and a broader role for the armed forces -- the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice.

Now? It is now clear? Wasn't it clear after 9/11?

Isn't this the president who was (self-)defined by 9/11, who exploited 9/11 out of partisanship, who supported the Patriot Act, created the Department of Homeland Security, launched a global war on terror, and started a reckless war in Iraq all for the sake of keeping America safe, who ran for re-election as the one man who could lead America through difficult and dangerous times?

And now what? Hollow claims of responsibility and a definitive lack of leadership. Sure, he's doing something now, but I wonder about all those promises, that State-of-the-Union-style laundry list of financial commitments. Will he follow through on them? Will he work with Congress and local officials to ensure that New Orleans is rebuilt and the evacuees are helped as much as possible? Or was this merely the rhetoric of a desperate politician whose poll numbers are low and getting lower?

Whatever my differences with the president, I do hope he's serious and I do hope everything is now clear to him. Forgive me, though, if I'm a little skeptical. He hasn't done much to win my trust and confidence these past 4+ years, and I'm not expecting much to change.

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Update (9/16/05): David Kusnet, former Clinton speechwriter, liked Bush's speech. As a speech, not necessarily for the content (though he liked much of that, too): "Never before has a president spoken so well and acted so ineptly. Perhaps the rhetoric will win Bush a second chance." I just don't think he spoke that well, though the rhetoric may indeed give him "a second chance". As for taking responsibility for all those blunders:

By the time he arrived at the question of whether his administration should be held accountable for responding too late, with too little assistance and too much ineptitude, Bush had gotten much of his audience nodding in agreement. Shrewdly, he said that "recovery and rebuilding" will require "a united country." But, then, he assumed the Reaganesque role of leader of the nation, not manager of the government, calling for a bipartisan investigation into what went wrong. Addressing the deepest dread surrounding this disaster -- if we couldn't respond to an anticipated assault from Katrina, what of a surprise attack by Osama? -- Bush said the panel's findings would be used to improve homeland security.

Nice try, Mr. President, but we see right through you.

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