Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina: Bush will rise to the occasion

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It's hard to fully appreciate the human cost of this awful tragedy. Almost a million people are stuck in soaring temperatures, struggling with the reality of what they've lost and the uncertainty of the future. As if things couldn't get any worse it seems that they are now threatened with the prospect of criminal violence and shootings from unscrupulous looters. It's in times of a national crisis like this that people look towards their political leaders for strength and inspiration.

Already criticisms have been directed at the Administration...

Despite repeated warnings that a catastrophic hurricane could hit Louisiana, the Administration and Congress denied full funding for hurricane preparation and flood control. Recently released figures show that $27 million was requested by the US Army Corps of Engineers to pay for hurricane protection projects around Lake Pontchartrain, which was countered by the Administration with a miserly offer of $3.9 million. Congress eventually provided $5.7 million. Michael Parker, a former Republican Mississippi congressman who headed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, from October 2001 to March 2002, has said of the funding shortfalls, "I'm not saying (New Orleans) wouldn't still be flooded... but I do feel that if it had been totally funded, there would be less flooding than you have."

In addition to the issues of underfunding there are broader implications for the manner in which the Administration has tackled Climate change. I was in Los Angeles earlier this year when California was subjected to record levels of sustained rainfall. Climate change is no longer just a scientific debate, or an abstract prospect for our children's children in the distant future. It is a manifest reality, now, that we can witness with our own eyes. And while there is no scientific proof that hurricane frequency is linked to global warming, environmental issues are clearly going to be the primary consideration as people search for a tangible explanation to such a terrible natural disaster.

But, there is a more pertinent criticism of the President being prominently expressed... his ability to stand up and give hope to those in need, leading the nation during such a tumultuous time of crisis and chaos.

Many people do not recall that in the immediate aftermath of September 11th similar questions were being asked of George Bush. Former Republican Congressman and TV Host, Joe Scarborough, has famously stated that he seriously questioned whether the President was up to such a momentous task directly after the WTC attacks. At Bush's initial press conference he struggled to hold back tears that sent a message of vulnerability when people were looking to be strengthened by his resolve. A televised phone call with NY Governor Pataki, and Mayor Giulliani depicted the President dumbfounded and incoherent as Giulliani repeatedly seemed to be covering for the Commander in Chief's shortcomings.

But, while I passionately disagree with so much of what this Administration stands for... its perpetuation of a failed economic theory, and its reckless approach to international affairs and the importance of multilateralism... that doesn't deprive me of recognizing George Bush's strengths, and hoping for them in abundance at a time when so many require their abundant display. Strengths that I believe will be there for all to see tomorrow when the President tours the damaged Gulf Coast region, traveling through some of the hardest hit areas by helicopter and then spending time with people at less hazardous locations on the ground.

Almost a million Americans are stranded without electricity... their lives shattered in the wake of this terrible disaster. Thousands, according to Senator Landrieu, might be dead. Those who are already sharpening their knives, convinced that the hurricane and floods will exacerbate the President's recent political demise should tread very carefully indeed. While there remains immense fear and insecurity, frequently descending into outbreaks of anger and resentment... it doesn't change the fact that there is a vacuum of leadership that we all need to be addressed.

George Bush, whether you love him or hate him is a very normal, sincere, emotionally accessible man, capable, on the most basic level of immeasurable compassion and empathy. He remains the man who felt and articulated people's feelings so effectively at Ground Zero with that bull horn in his hands. He remains the man that gave one of the most impressive addresses I have ever seen to the United Nations in the lead up to the Iraq War, when so many expected him to fall on his face. He remains the man that out pointed Al Gore in three successive Presidential Debates, and came back against John Kerry effectively after a disastrous first debate. Those who seek to capitalize on Hurricane Katrina for political ends are simply setting themselves up for the most consistent truism of Bush's political career: When expectations are at their lowest, George Bush often blows people's expectations away with the earnestness of his humanity and the extent of his competence. When it really matters, as a political leader, very rarely does he fail to rise to the occasion. Hence, why so many people of my political persuasion find him to be such a nightmare to wrap their heads around. As much as I have, very strongly, disagreed with his policies on this blog, and will continue to do so during the long journey to 2008, I hope that I have always been, and will remain, honestly respectful of his strengths as a politician.

As bad as Bush's approval ratings are (and they are very bad indeed) those who are precipitously making accusations should be wary of committing the same mistakes of Bush's past adversaries. They should also recognize that perhaps now is not the time to employ such a rigorous level of scrutiny in an attempt to apportion blame. The time for that will soon be here... mistakes will be highlighted, and those responsible should be held accountable. But, right now people are in serious trouble, and it looks like they're going to remain that way for quite a period of time. Somehow, at least in the short term, we need to pull together and hope that the President can convey a sense of national unity, and compassion, that will leave those who are stranded and hopeless with the indisputable sense that they are not alone... That everybody, regardless of our political affiliation and our disagreements with the President, are in this together for the long haul.

My best wishes go out to anyone who remains involved in this terrible tragedy.

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gigotti said...

I commend you on an excellent post. Although I dont "choose" a side, its been my experience in a short time on blogexplosion that political based blogs that are "left" or somewhere near do nothing but blast the President and the Administration. You my friend, are the first to shed light on our President even when you dont like him. I look forward to more posts since you view things at different angles, not just one. Very well written.

Alice: In Wonderland or Not said...

I agree that now is not the time but to not blame when there needs to be blame is foolish and plays into a hand the administration is dealing.
I can't agree totally with you in this regard.
I also think the people of this country are responsible in a large way for many of the things that have happened by sheer apathy about their government over the last several years. I am hoping they wake up to a need for government rules bipartisianly for the people with the needs of this country in mind.

Graham said...

Thanks gigotti, look forward to seeing you around here :).

Hey Alice,

I agree with you about the need for a change, and so do the American people, but that is a process for us to, offering a viable alternative as Demcrats that can resonate with the majority of Americans.

The last thing I'm suggesting is that Bush or the Administration is beyond criticism. I'm saying that at a time like this, the office of the President can bring a lot of hope to people, it can give the nation strength... and those who are already laying into Bush for under funding/global warming/relief effort should just hold back at this time when there is so much need. There will be a right time for exploring the mistakes that were made and holding people accountable, I am just not sure the immediate aftermath is that right time.

The relief effort, though, for sure is not above scrutiny at this time, though, for sure... people need help... but, I just feel like a lot of them need the President to stand up and fill that huge leadership vacuum and bind everyone together. I hope Bush, in some measure, accompishes this later today. Because the extent of hopelessness is really the saddest part right now.

+ I would be saying exactly the same things about Clinton had he been in power... only with a greater measure of confidence in him.

Jensgalore said...

Well said!

Universal Soldier said...

Another very interesting post. I enjoy learning from your insight.

Graham said...

Thank you Universal Soldier. Your blog is pretty damn cool itself.

aka_monty said...

A most excellent post. I'm in agreement with many others~now is not the time to play the Blame Game.
I may not always agree with our government and its policies and procedures, but you said it perfectly with this:

"that doesn't deprive me of recognizing George Bush's strengths, and hoping for them in abundance at a time when so many require their abundant display. Strengths that I believe will be there for all to see tomorrow when the President tours the damaged Gulf Coast region, traveling through some of the hardest hit areas by helicopter and then spending time with people at less hazardous locations on the ground."

afp763389 said...

i like the picture on profile :)

Alice: In Wonderland or Not said...

Over the last couple of days I have felt guilty even going to the US open but I am shocked to find Bush played Golf on Monday. I am respeting Anderson Cooper for recognizing the hard working men and women of FEMA and the guard units that are there but I also repsect him for saying that we need to ask certain things now not later...why was the help so long in coming, and why is it still , in some cases , not there. It is our duty to ask the right questions at the right time and although now may not be the time to ask about the global warming and eco system issues it is the time for us to ask questions about the lack of response inititally or lack of preparedness for the kind of response needed. I think the media, and the people asking these questions early on actually saved some peoplea lives.

Graham said...

Very well put...

The relief effort is clearly open to scrutiny because upon its effectiveness relies thousands and thousands of lives. Those questions that directly relate to how we can improve the situation of those suffering are absolutely needed...

But, the more speculative politicizing of this situation I think is detrimental whether justified or not. There's a lot of anger and bitterness, but it's at times like this that the office of the Presidency can play a vital role in giving people hope, and binding the nation together in a common cause. I thought Bush was amazing today, but that's what I expected and why I wrote this post. Everything he said... the way he cut through what would be politically in his best interests to say... and instead, in his typical style, just admitted it wasn't good enough and that things needed to dramatically improve. The sincerity of his compassion for people.

Stuff like that appears trite when there are thousands in perilious situations... but sometimes the actions of our political leaders are required to give us all hope and strength, purpose and a sense that this can be overcome. I think Bush accomplished this in part today.

I don't know when the situation is likely to get under control... not for some time yet by the looks of things... but then there will definately be many questions that need to be answered, including all of the ones you raise above.

JollyRoger said...

I think you're wrong on this one. And here's why.

George Bush functions at his highest level if there is opportunity to pursue his own vision. September 11 was a chance for him to remold the world (or at least he thought so) in his own vision. And he was magnificent as long as the world remained on board after the hellish events of September 11th. However, we have seen his failures in Iraq chip away at the guy who seemed to be so sure of himself and his path in the aftermath of the WTC and Pentagon attacks-he is, of course, as sure of himself as he ever was, but he genuinely resents any suggestion that he may have ever done anything wrong. IOW, he does not function well without the 90% approval rating he had in the aftermath of September 11.

This time, there are serious questions about the cutoff of flood control money so that the Iraqi War could be funded. It is being suggested that some of the presumed thousands of American deaths are also casualties of the Iraq War, and a case can be made for this point of view. Bush will never, ever be able to tolerate criticism, and this time he will not avoid the criticism.

His inability to tolerate any form of questioning guarantees that he will never again perform as he did after the WTC and Penatagon attacks. And even if he could tolerate the criticism, he'll just never be as interested in shoring up flood control systems as he is in remaking the Middle East in his image-haven't we seen proof enough of that already?

Tachizuno said...

Interesting post...

In this time of trouble, we need to unite again.


Graham said...

Thanks Tachizuno :).

Hey Jollyroger,

The level of accountability with the Administration and Bush has always been very poor. Has there ever been a President who has been asked so few difficult questions? Who barely ever exposes himself to press scrutiny, or public scrutiny.

But to be fair to Bush, I don't think he is a convoluted political operative. I don't think as he toured New Orleans yesterday he was preoccupied by the political implications, or broader deisgns. I think his responses were sincere. That is his strength as a politician and a President.

Now sincerity isn't always enough... but right now I think it can give the nation something at a time when there is a nervous vacuum of gov't leadership because the situation is just so vast. There are no Giulliani's hovering over the chaos giving people a sense that this is a battle that will be won.

I appreciate your viewpoint JR, and thanks for writing on my blog :).

Tommy Gnosis said...

I'm saying that at a time like this, the office of the President can bring a lot of hope to people, it can give the nation strength... and those who are already laying into Bush for under funding/global warming/relief effort should just hold back at this time when there is so much need.

That time has passed. As a New Yorker living in NYC during 911, the only real leadership I can recall was that provided by Rudy Giuliani. Whatever was provided by the President was too little too late, and mostly all he did was use the crisis to further his agressive agenda in the Middle East.

Seriously, if now is not the right time to criticize the President, when is? It seems there's never a good time. It's either because we're at war, or this is a time of crisis, or... Enough! Americans seem to have infinite capacity for forgiving and forgetting, but at what cost? He only stepped up to say the rescue effort was "unacceptable" after FOUR DAYS of reporting how miserable.

His initial response to this was atrocious. A photo-op of him playing a guitar while the grim aftermath of Katrina was just becoming apparent? This man is an insensitive, loathsome, terrible excuse for a leader.

I'm sorry, I don't mean to vent on you as you seem genuinely well-intentioned, but school's out on this guy. He's had several chances to redeem himself and his administration, but at each turn he's demonstrated himself to be an empty partisan hack with no "vision" whatsoever.

Very best regards,

Graham said...

I respect your opinion Paul, and understand where you're coming from. The problem it seems, like I mentioned in an above comment, is that there is no Rudy Giulliani right now in New Orleans leading everybody together with his valour and articulate assessments of the situation. The closest thing has been Landrieu in the mainstream media that I have been able to see. There's this vacuum and absense of political leadership... I just feel that people need the President.

I haven't seen enough of Bush's trip yesterday to judge comprehensively the merits of what he did. But, from little I saw there was enough sincere urgency and compassion to make me think he's going to do everything he can to help people... and that he really cares. I was very impressed with what I saw.

There's a broader, more intricate critique that should be applied to this Administration and the situation, of course, and I think I intend to explore that a bit myself on this blog in the coming weeks, because something like this should not have such catastrophic consequences in the year 2005.

I'm just don't feel now is the right time. And people need their President.

Thanks for your comment Paul :).

Tommy Gnosis said...

I understand your point of view, but I must respectfully disagree.

This is a so-called accountability moment. What exactly has the Department of Homeland Security been doing these past four years? We have a major catastrophe in a large American city that we were completely unprepared for. People were for days without food or water.

Whether it's mother nature or man made (a terrorist attack God forbid), isn't this precisely the kind of thing they we should have been preparing for?

This is a huge failure of leadership and of government.

I think it's true that the President can help bolster morale with his symbolic gestures of sincerity, but aren't there more important issues at hand?

My fear is that if these issues are not addressed now, they will just be swept under the rug later, and nothing will improve. This endangers us all.

Thanks again for listening.


Jay said...

I have to disagree with you. Bush has all the hallmarks of a clinical sociopath. I believe that he, like his father, is incapable of having any empathetic feelings toward another. He can be charming...yes...but it is shallow and displayed for his own gain.

Graham said...

I have to disagree with you Jay. I don't think Bush is a sociopath at all. While his compassion and empathy might not inform his world view and political ideology... it unquestionably exists.

His sincere concern yesterday wasn't feigned, nor charming, in the least bit. He really cares, sentimentally perhaps, but it comes from his heart.

Hey Paulo,

I too understand where you're coming from, and why there is a lot of bitterness right now towards the governement. I'm just trying to say that at this time, recriminations don't necessarily help those in peril. Of course we have to reflect upon our strategies, but there needs to be political leadership... I think at times like this we rely upon the President... and while the inclination to lay blame might be intense, it's more important to get behind our leaders in their quest to regain control of a very volatile and unpredictable set of circumstances.

Jay said...

graham, I've met the man. Believe me...what you see on TV is not what you see behind his eyes. Bush away from the camara is a very different, and very scary persona. Bush cares about Bush. You, me, and most of the other people in the country matter less than nothing to him. This disaster should have made that very plain for all to see...before his PR army swung into action after a few days and put him through some photo-ops.

Graham said...

I respect your experience of him, and I don't doubt that Bush cares about Bush fundamentally. But, I've seen an awful lot of the man. I saw the documentary by Nancy Pelosi's daughter in the lead up to the 2000 election which was very intimate, and hardly sympathetic. And I've followed his Presidency very closely. I'm inclined to reach the same conclusions you do on your blog, about how dyre his Presidency has been domestically, and for the world at large. I'm still mad as hell about John Bolton.

But, from what I've seen I do believe he is sincere, that he is a compassionate man, and that his political strength lies in his ability to represent a staunchly right wing political platform and yet still appeal to the nation as a whole as a centrist, through his genuine humanity and connection. That isn't charm. JFK, Reagan, Clinton had charm. Bush has zero charm.

So while I respect your conclusions of him, I cannot deny what I've seen and felt of Bush myself. My criticism's of Bush and the Administration on this blog don't negate my ability to objectively assess the man.

Ali Nurdin said...

Very nice and informative blog..

Graham said...

Just to bookend this thread I wanted to post this interview by Anderson Cooper w/ Senator Landrieu in which he hammers her for paying political compliments at a time when people are dying, or dead... when clearly such huge mistakes have been made.

Who am I to critcize Anderson Cooper from my comfortable vantage, when he sees the turmoil with his own eyes, feels the anger at the mistakes and demands answers?

I just think that this is still an ongoing relief effort, and I'm glad that Senator Landrieu is supporting Bush and Frist and not laying into them. We should be united, and I think that really does matter. I don't believe the divisiveness of rigorously holding people to account right now is going to save any lives.

Anyone who has read Mary Landrieu's thoughts from two months ago, when she warned that Louisiana was not in a position to withstand something like this, knows that she has passionate criticisms about why this happened, and the mistakes that have caused it.

But, right now everyone has to focus on the doing the best they can to deal with the thousands still in harms way. And, I think that's where she is coming from.

Anway, I recommend you watch the interview and make up your own mind. I don't know what is appropriate. All I know is that stuff has to get done, and maybe that should be focused on. We need our politicians to rise to the occasion. We are depending upon them all.

Anderson Cooper Interviews Senator Mary Landrieu

Tasha said...

I cannot believe thses blogs....You are absolutly right about everything you said. How come evry time something bad happens our country feels the need to start blaming???? Maybe this is god's way to remind us to do things for eachother and not expect the government to do everything. If everyone in Louisiana that wasn't affected, drove to New Orleans and picked up people many more would have been saved. Our country should be about people helping people. Not people standing around bitchin that more could have been done, while they are sitting around typing on the computer about how bad our government it.

Graham said...

I have to say, I wrote this post over a week ago, and I expected an awful lot more from the President.

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Hurricane Katrina in pictures