September 02, 2005
A Small Man
I have to say, none of this really makes sense to me. America is not a country that lacks for cars; why isn't the Superdome totally evacuated? America is not a country that lacks for copters -- why does CNN keep spotting stranded families waving sheets for help? For that matter, why don't we just conscript CNN's copters to help them? We are not a country that lacks for food, so why aren't trucks barreling in with rations? We are not a country that lacks for homes, why isn't Bush going on TV and, with the Astrodome full, asking private citizens to open their doors? For that matter, why doesn't Bush just fire back up the network of evangelical churches he used to win the election? They could sleep thousands in their pews and call on their congregations to provide hundreds of thousands of beds -- and they would. Why isn't Bush coming on TV and asking Americans to send blankets, to send canned foods, to donate to a relief effort, anything? Why isn't he leading, why isn't America responding, why do we all seem so paralyzed?
Oliver had a good post on this, but it bears repeating. George W. Bush is not up to the task of leadership. That's not said as a criticism, actually -- I am not up to the task of dancing, or running marathons. We all have failings, and Bush's essential flaw is an inability to project himself, an inability to grow in dimension during a crisis, an inability to sense that catastrophes serve as opportunities for strengthening the American community. I dislike Bush for mean-spiritedness, for his incompetence, for his smugness. But I deplore him for his smallness. That the 2004 election was a 51-49 affair is shocking. Had John McCain won in 2000, his response to 9/11 would have toasted the Democratic party for the next 20 years. Had Al Gore been in office, his leadership in the moments after would've changed the world, or at least the international community. Both of them would have brought Americans together. But Bush simply invited us to malls, wedged us apart, snookered us into a disastrous war that didn't need to be fought. For a President to hold office during a crisis of that magnitude and do as little, both socially and politically, as Bush did is almost unprecedented.
I don't blame Bush for Katrina -- he does not control the weather. And I don't blame him for the levees -- even with full-funding, they weren't scheduled to be completed for years, the levee that broke was actually one of the renovated ones, and so on; his funding decisions were criminal, but they would only have been causal five years from now. I blame him for the national guard being absent, but that's a secondary problem. What I blame him for, what I hate him for, is for not stepping up to the job of President right now. For being a small man when a big one is required. For offering a laundry list of supplies-on-the-way when his job is uniting the American people and helping them give aid and comfort to their countrymen. A President can't stop a disaster, but he can coalesce the citizenry to ease its aftermath, he can take catastrophe and use it to reknit the nation's community.
Bush didn't. He didn't do it here and he didn't do it on 9/11. In America, great things can come out of great calamity. Bush has had two opportunities to create something lasting, he has failed both times. For most else, I forgive him. For that, I never will.
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Just because the levee failure can't be specifically blamed on Bush doesn't mean that chronically underfunding the projects wasn't a bad decision that the GOP shouldn't pay for.
It's part of the larger problem of not taking their jobs seriously (beyond making sure the top GOP donors are taken care of).
Posted by: Dave | Sep 2, 2005 12:53:07 PM
It isn't Bush's fault as a person. He is just represents the majority of this country's stupor and that's something we must confront.
Remember when 9-11 was supposed to strip away all of the country's obsession with sex scandals and sharks -- and the populace would care about foreign affairs.
Three years later, we started focusing on missing white girls and more reality TV. Hell, Rita Cosby was "live and direct" covering New Orleans.... from Aruba.
Three years from now, I hope we don't turn back to the trivial, but I suspect we will. But I hope at some point the searing images of the last week wakes some people up that public events are personal and politics *do* affect people in ways you can't even imagine and that good citizenship and critical thinking *matter*.
We expect better -- not just from our leadership, but from ourselves.
Posted by: Chris R | Sep 2, 2005 12:53:55 PM
So, partly, this is a matter of logistics. We have lots of food, but we're not terribly well equipped to make massive shifts in how we move that food around on short notice.
The inability to fire up all those churches for disaster relief, however, I have no explanation for. I guess they're all being enlisted to help repeal the Paris Hilton tax.
Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Sep 2, 2005 1:00:53 PM
I don't forgive W. for the rest, nor Reagan for
starting the US on its long march to oblivion,
nor George I for being such a weenie.
I do, however, forgive Ford for appearing to
bumble in public, Nixon for being a criminal,
and Ike for destabilizing half the world.
The difference is that Ford, Nixon and Eisenhower
were, in the end, competent administrators of
important policy. The Reagan and the Georges
were great winners of a political realignment
and utter incompetents at policy.
Policy matters. Imagine the fury of a pre-FDR
conservative had Roosevelt's policies been utter
failures and his appointees incompetents.
That's how I feel about W and 'Lake George'.
Posted by: wcw | Sep 2, 2005 1:25:42 PM
Bravo, Bravo, Ezra. Excellent writing.
Posted by: fiat lux | Sep 2, 2005 1:29:56 PM
Yes, excellent indeed. You've written the post that a lot of people have been trying, and failing, to articulate for four years.
Posted by: Tom Hilton | Sep 2, 2005 1:42:54 PM
Levees have to be kept up year after year, because they sink. There is no finish line with a levee. He cut that funding through his policies.
his funding decisions were criminal, but they would only have been causal five years from now
Criminal, no doubt. Causal five years from now?
Local officials are saying, the article claimed, that had Washington heeded warnings about the dire need for extra hurricane protection, including building up levees and repairing barrier islands, "the damage might not have been nearly as bad as it turned out to be".
Like wcw said, Policy matters.
Posted by: evilchemistry | Sep 2, 2005 2:13:48 PM
Great post, Ezra. What you said!
Posted by: pfc | Sep 2, 2005 2:42:51 PM
Bring in private automobiles? With the Interstates broken in places and under water in others? Two nights ago, the rescue boats (apparently just about everybody with a functioning powerboat is pitching in to rescue people somewhere along the coast) had to be held out of New Orleans because some of the rescuees were taking shots at the rescuers. The private automobiles would be more tempting targets.
Posted by: Stephen Karlson | Sep 2, 2005 5:18:29 PM
You're wrong. It's not incompetence. What we've seen, both before and after the hurricane, is ideology at work. The Army Corps of Engineers wasn't defunded due to budgetary pressure; since when has this administration given a damn about containing the deficit? USACOE was defunded to fight the greater evil of "moral hazard." FEMA wasn't broken last week because Michael Brown turns out to be a half-wit; FEMA was deliberately "drowned in the bathtub," because Bush and his camp genuinely, consistently believe that it's morally wrong, the worst, evilest act they can imagine, that rich people should ever be forced to give up tax dollars to buy things like levee repair, or when the levee fails, to waste money on helicopters or medicine or bottled water for flooded-out poor people.
Incompetent? No, I give Bushco high, high marks for competence; they're doing, literally, one Hell of a job. Imagine what a tricky, subtle task it's been all last week to deliberately hold back the Army, the National Guard, the Red Cross, two dozen foreign nations and a million volunteers, while thousands of Americans in the city of New Orleans die in agony right before their eyes.
Posted by: W. Kiernan | Sep 5, 2005 9:44:16 AM
Ezra, when I said I loved you I wasn't just blowin' air up your skirt.
Posted by: Twisty | Sep 5, 2005 3:41:50 PM
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