Delayed Reaction, Again
Delayed Reaction, Again
Compassion is not a photo-op. If you read David Brooks’ column in the Times earlier in the week, you wouldn’t have been surprised to hear him tell Jim Lehrer that the government’s response to the Gulf States catastrophe represented a possible watershed (my word not his) event. What surprised me was to hear that the images of President Bush yesterday hugging and lamenting made him angry. Brooks, a long time supporter of Bush’s policies, wasn’t sure that we’ve reached the tipping point, but perhaps we have. Could it be that this awful disaster might awake America from its dream state coma?
What’s also clear this week, something which must come as a great shock to those cocky know-it-all neocons, is that what we need is more government not less. Despite the valiant and commendable contributions being made by religious groups in this time of human crisis, all the faith-based initiatives in the world can’t rescue populations in the millions or help them rebuild their shattered lives. Also, I can't help wondering what all those good church people who voted for George Bush primarily because he was a man of faith must be thinking today about the clueless government they brought into power, not to mention the man. Here is a president who rushed back to Washington to sign the save-vegetative-state-Terry bill when he couldn’t muster an immediate action, not to mention picking himself up from the brush whacker, to address saving viable lives, many of whom will undoubtedly have died needlessly from neglect.
Bush had a delayed reaction to the Hurricane and it wasn’t the first time. Remember how long it took him to react to September 11? We forget it now because we had an activist mayor who stood in the breach and, without taking away from that moment of grand leadership, knew how to make everyone feel that, as Arthur Miller might have put it, “attention was being paid” even if it was not. I don’t know what it is about Bush. When he first started the wrap was that he couldn’t think or do for himself, that Dick Chaney and others were simply pulling the strings. Since then, we’re constantly told that the president really is a smart guy and that he’s in charge. I find myself going back to the default. At the very least his obvious lack of spontaneity suggests a man who, if not manipulated by handlers, calculates every move and, if required, will sacrifice any of us to make sure that his photo ops look right. Some people said he waited to get down close and personal with what he calls “the folks” until the TV screens could simultaneously show the truck convoy of help, like him much delayed, on the way. As usual, the compliant media pitched in with a lot of split screens – hugging scenes along with trucks filled to the brim. Of course the idea of any such coordination would be cynical, wouldn’t it? But be assured that he wasn’t about to go down there and give “Brownie” (his FEMA director) a thumbs up until something – anything – was happening.
I keep on trying to figure out George Bush’s problem? The man talks of his faith and of his compassionate conservatism (now there is an oxymoron) and yet he lacks the basic instincts one would expect of someone so committed. I think the answer may actually be quite simple. Bush has never in his life experienced lack of resources much less any substantial discomfort. John Kerry may have grown up in relative affluence, but at least he experienced the down and dirty in Viet Nam.
The problem with all the rich people whom we now have in government is not that they have money or even that it takes so much to play the game these days. That’s an issue for election reform. The problem is that they have no idea about how the vast majority of people live, the problems they face and their way of survival which so often is, of necessity, taking it one agonizing day at a time. That it is time for new leadership is to state the obvious. In thinking about what kind of president we need, perhaps it should be someone who at least started out poor. Bill Clinton, no less political than Bush, didn’t have delayed reactions and, while he is not the only one, John Edwards probably wouldn’t have either. Both, now well off, started with nothing. Obviously, even the born rich can have compassion and good instincts (there are many examples) but having known struggle is not a bad thing to have on a presidential wannabe’s resume. How did they put it back in the old days? “Power to the people.”