Bush is being criticised for not acting fast enough and for a lack luster, even humorous, speech when he first addressed the plight of New Orleans. The New York Times has become increasingly strident in its editorials over the last few days:
George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.
Bush doesn’t seem to have either a natural sense of compassion or even a natural political instinct on these occasions when symbolic leadership is most needed. Either Clinton or Reagan would have acted immediately and made us feel that they were involved personally and politically with the crisis. This symbolic act of the leader is of such importance and has real impact on the course of actual events by creating a buoyant atmosphere for recovery. But there is a difference between a genuine act of symbolic leadership, which requires engagement, reflection and action and a staged media event. Increasingly it is difficult for both politicians and the public to distinguish between the two.
A story has just emerged about how deliberately the Bush team stage managed the tour of the crisis zone. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu has just released a statement:
“But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast – black and white, rich and poor, young and old – deserve far better from their national government.
This has been reported by the wires and some blogs but doesn’t appear to have been picked up by the mainstream press yet.
It is confirmed by at least one report from a viewer of a German news service who says the German account of Bush’s tour differed markedly from the CNN account:
There was a striking dicrepancy between the CNN International report on the Bush visit to the New Orleans disaster zone, yesterday, and reports of the same event by German TV.
ZDF News reported that the president’s visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of ‘news people’ had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time.
The people in the area were once again left to fend for themselves, said ZDF.
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