Defining Moment

The Times worked up a bogus take on our president’s image and poll tribulations a year after Hurricane Katrina caught his administration, and just about everybody else who might have known better, flat-footed. In The Times’s telling, our president’s famous post-Katrina flight over New Orleans, gazing down on the blur of floodwaters and the invisible drama of people losing their grip on life, was a defining and damning moment. In the words of Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican:

“Unfortunately, it may be hard to erase the regrettable photo of him on Air Force One looking down at the destruction and devastation below. That’s a searing and very unfortunate image that doesn’t reflect the president’s compassion.”

Maybe the image is as bad as all that. But you have to ask yourself, what had Bush done before that picture was taken to mark him as such a dynamic, effective leader. What did he have in the asset column that was so thoroughly erased by the decision to view the catastrophe from afar? The Times finds the answer in the smoking ruins of the World Trade Center, where Bush made a personal appearance three days after the 9/11 attacks to inspire the Ground Zero workers.

I’m more inclined to think of another, more sprawling disaster scene: Iraq. After watching Bush’s handiwork there, his Hurricane Katrina performance seems like it’s par for the course. If that seems too harsh, consider my favorite Katrina Week utterance. No, not “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” Not New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin going off on his profane radio tirade. Those were great, but I like this more: Bush’s remarks at a Southern California event while Katrina was still pounding the coast:

“The storm is moving through, and we’re now able to assess damage, or beginning to assess damage. And I want the people to know in the affected areas that the federal government and the state government and the local governments will work side-by-side to do all we can to help get your lives back in order.

“This was a terrible storm. It’s a storm that hit with a lot of ferocity. It’s a storm now that is moving through, and now it’s the time for governments to help people get their feet on the ground.

“For those of you who prayed for the folks in that area, I want to thank you for your prayers. For those of you who are concerned about whether or not we’re prepared to help, don’t be. We are. We’re in place. We’ve got equipment in place, supplies in place. And once the — once we’re able to assess the damage, we’ll be able to move in and help those good folks in the affected areas.”

Don’t worry, everyone — he’s got us covered.

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One Reply to “Defining Moment”

  1. That last part…the Southern California part…reads like boilplate, written by some underling. I agree that a picture of the guy looking out the window of an airplane is hardly a defining moment. But he should have had enough political instinct to set the plane down and be seen doing something. LBJ had that during the hurricane in 1966 (Camille?). The “heck of a job” photo-op contrasted with bodies floating in the streets was the pretty much the defining moment, at least from my perspective. These guys are all about appearance–not substance. I mean, Condi was shopping for shoes on Madison Avenue that week. ‘Nuff said.

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