I am back after taking six months leave of absence from this project currently focusing on getting together a stronger structure for my thesis.
In the news everything circles around the same issues. With the first anniversary of Katrina and the fifth anniversary of September 11 both approaching there are a growing body of comment pieces which from my perspective seek to make sense of the myth of President Geroge W Bush. In yesterday’s Chicago Tribune Mark Silva catalogues the series of powerful image moments that constructed the overall image of a removed president as Katrina made landfall:
At first he was remote from the disaster, leaving a long summer vacation in Texas for a scheduled speech to senior citizens in Arizona the day Katrina struck. His distance was magnified the next day in San Diego, where he commemorated the 60th anniversary of Victory in Japan Day and hoisted a singer’s guitar for photographers.
The next soon-to-become iconic image of detachment came with a photograph of Bush looking down at New Orleans from Air Force One as he flew east to Washington. It portrayed, not a concerned leader, but one who had not stopped to comfort suffering people.
When Bush finally did arrive on the Gulf Coast on Sept. 2, he uttered the words to the struggling director of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, that have haunted Bush since: “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
As most of New Orleans lay under water and thousands piled into the convention center pleading for food and potable water, the nation’s most costly natural disaster had become a full-fledged political disaster.
This image of a detached president, inappropriately upbeat seems to have had a major impact on his standing as a leader. But it also clustered with a range of other misadventures and missteps. Silva continues:
The crisis arrived as growing numbers of Americans were starting to question the conduct of the war in Iraq as well as Bush’s handling of the economy. His approval rating in the Gallup Poll already had slumped to 40 percent days before Katrina, then a low point for Bush and a level of support he still is struggling to maintain.
“The greatest damage that Katrina did to President Bush was in his aura of competence,” said David Lanoue, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama. “It shook the confidence of a lot of people in the White House’s ability to respond to either natural or man-made disasters.”
The elephant in the hurricane was of course the issues of race and poverty. Something that overtime even Bush seemed to understand. Two weeks after Katrina he made a significant speech that linked race and poverty and made a commitment to developing minority owned businesses and increasing homeownership. But New Orleans is still waiting.
“He said he was going to talk about race and poverty,” said Brinkley, who teaches American civilization at Tulane. “When did that happen? It’s back to business as usual.”
The federal government has committed $17 billion for community development block grants, offering as much as $150,000 for each homeowner whose home stood outside designated flood zones.
But Mississippi only recently started paying out this money to homeowners, and Louisiana is just now starting.
Experts say little will end up in the hands of low-income homeowners–and none will go to renters, nearly half of the people displaced by Katrina.
“This is a unique opportunity in American life,” said Roland Anglin, director of the Initiative on Regional and Community Transformation at Rutgers University. “When the president came to the Gulf Coast and made those remarks, a lot of us thought that was an opportunity to readdress the issue of race and equity. Unfortunately, that has not progressed as much as many of us hoped it would.”
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