The President delivered his speech to an empty city last night, I guess figuring that if he spoke only to ghosts he wouldn't hear the jeers and catcalls he deserved.
I know. I know. It was symbolic. The President was leading the way back into the ruined the city, the first one there to begin the rebuilding. Over on Bourbon Street people with degrees in semiotics put down their drinks and nodded approvingly at Karl Rove's brilliance.
I didn't watch. The Heretik did. Yesterday morning. In his mind's eye. He described the speech perfectly hours before the Bush had even cleared his throat. The Heretik isn't a clairvoyant anymore than Bush is a medium. The charade was just so darn predictable.
But the Heretik watched the speech again, on TV and in real time, to see how much he'd gotten right, which was all of it, although Bush surprised him with one thing. Surprised is the wrong word. Appalled?
Bush's call for the military to intervene in future disasters was the most surreal and nightmarish moment of the entire dark drama writ in words black and blue last night. Bush here would once again take advantage of a wounded country to advance a most backward agenda of more control. And this from a man who campaigns against government?
In the first few days after the leeves broke, and New Orleans began to sink into water, chaos, and misery, a lot of people wondered why the President didn't order the regular Army into action. (Steve Gilliard had several posts about the specific units Bush could have called in.) The National Guard units from the stricken states were spread too thin over the whole Gulf Coast---the units that weren't in Iraq---and Guard units from other states that wanted to help couldn't mobilize fast enough---in at least one case, New Mexico's, because the Pentagon didn't do the paperwork---so why didn't Bush send in the regular Army right away instead of waiting until almost the end of the week?
But he brought up the idea of calling in the troops next time as if he hadn't been able to do it this time. What was that? Another pretense? Was he pretending he hadn't done what he'd done and that he didn't have the power to do what he was pretending not to have done in hopes that we would all forget that he'd done it too late?
The Heretik thinks that he's looking for more military powers than he already has, more direct control of the troops.
The coverage of the speech, before and after, is what dismayed me. (Make sure you follow the Heretik's linkages.) The coverage treated the speech as something apart from the disaster Bush was supposed to be doing something about at last, as if it was not a policy statement or a plan of action but a campaign appearance.
As if it was possible and actually important to see if the speech did what Karl Rove wanted it to do, not as if it committed Bush to any real measures to rebuild the Gulf Coast.
A piece of performance art.
Would he, could he, regain his mojo with this speech? Did he or didn't he get back his game?
Something that drives me nuts about The West Wing is that the show presents speeches as mattering most as performances, both rhetorical and theatrical, and a knock-out performance is as good as completing the actions a speech promises. Well, it's a TV show, and all problems must be wrapped up neatly within the course of a story arc, and it's a writers' show with the President's speechwriters as its heroes. But that's not how it's supposed to work in real life. A well-performed speech doesn't do anything.
Performance is a part of leadership. A President who doesn't look and act like a President pesuasively can't be President because no one will pay attention. But I thought that one of the things Katrina showed was that looking and acting like a President can't be something the President does only during scripted moments on TV. Acting like a President means taking action as the President. Bush hasn't looked like a President since Katrina made landfall not because he didn't act the part, but because he didn't act.
The whole world saw him fail.
The measure of the speech should have been how far it went towards committing Bush to specific actions that would make up for his previous inaction. How far did it go towards making him act as President?
But it was previewed and it's been reviewed as if Bush's failure was only an image problem: would it restore his image as a can-do President, how far did it go towards making him look like a President again, as if looking the part was separate from acting not like but as the President.
The thrust of the speech was a foregone conclusion. Bush had to promise to help rebuild. New Orleans, Biloxi, and the other broken towns and cities in the region had already begun to put themselves back together. Nobody needed Bush to come in and get the job underway. The first question that the speech should have been addressing was what specifically he was going to do to help.
The answer, knowing Bush, was also a foregone conclusion: appropriate a lot of money that will end up in the pockets of his pals and financial backers.
But the second question was and still is, Even if Bush had committed himself to anything substantial and actually designed to help rather than designed to make a bunch of already rich people richer (and by the way the two things aren't mutually exclusive. Corruption and competence can cooperate to build bridges and roads and even whole cities) why should we believe that he could deliver?
What has he done in the past that shows that he knows how to do anything right?
Why should we believe in him?
We've got Iraq.
We've got Katrina.
What's he got?
A speech full of nothing delivered to an audience of ghosts in front of a church turned into a cheesy set on a studio backlot where the lights weren't even aimed right.
Update: Via Gilliard: On September 8, the New York Times reported on why Bush was slow to deploy regular Army troops in New Olreans. Apparently the President can send combat troops in for relief missions, but he can't order them to do police work without invoking the Insurrection Act, and any early relief missions would have been also de facto policing because the troops would have had to establish law and order in order to do their jobs. Bush's advisors told him that Governor Blanco would have objected to the President invoking the Insurrection Act which would have forced her to surrender state control to the President for the duration---why they thought she would object when she pretty clearly had lost control and was begging for federal troops, the Times doesn't say.
So the Heretik may be on to something. Bush may be looking for permission to be able to take over control from local governments without having to invoke the Insurrection Act.
NBC's Brian Williams reports that the President's roadies, stagehands, gaffers, and grippes were at least able to get the lights on along the route his motorcade took.
Of course they turned them right off after the President was done with them, leaving residents like he left the rest of us with his speech---in the dark.