Presidency by the Numbers: 1...2...3...It's as Easy to Learn as Your ABC's...
From ABC just before the President's reading last night - "the White House wanted to make sure we told you that all the lights you see tonight are provided by generators supplied by the White House."
If only he'd made the reading from the Superdome in the early days. Those folks might have had lights and AC.
There were elements of the reading that I liked. I liked that it had lots of information for storm victims. I liked that he took care to mention areas besides New Orleans. I liked the references to the Chicago fire and the San Fran earthquake.
But there is a lot that bugged me.
First, I'm really tired of made-for-TV events around Presidential speeches.
Act One, Scene One,
New Orleans, Prime Time
President walks alone, but presidentially across well-lit, freshly mown, but presidential lawn. He wears no tie, no jacket...though presidential, he is a man of the poeple. He begins a dramatic and presidential reading...
Second, there are Presidential speech conventions that are beginning to drive me nuts:
(a) the tendency to mention specific people and heroic or noble or extraordinary acts. "So and so was about to be robbed in their home and took in the would-be robbers and 15 other people besides..." In the State of the Union addresses, it's made for applause "...stand up, so and so...", and it gets very old, in readings, it just comes across as Presidency by the numbers, 1...2...3...
(b) subtle Christian references (like the one cited above - nice turning of the other cheek so and so) and words like "grace" that are used to reference a deity (and it ain't allah and it ain't the earth mother neither).
(c) The endings are now so required that you can't even deviate from them when you should "...and my God bless America." (Take that, pledge of allegiance haters!) I would have loved it if he would have read "May God bless all who have suffered a loss from this storm; may God bless this earth. I'm going to go rejoin Kyoto."
Dare to dream, I say. Dare to dream.
Third, I'm fully convinced that the President goes where he is told to go and says what he is told to say.
Aide: "Sir, you must leave Crawford."
Bushy: "Why? I got two days left."
Aide: "Well with the hurricane and all."
Bushy: "This isn't a hurricane, it's an iced tea."
Aide: "Funny sir. But I meant hurricane Katrina."
Bush: "I'm sure Brownie's on it, where's my bike?"
Aide: "Sir, I'm afraid I must insist. Also sir, start reviewing your talking points, this storm has 'PR disaster' written all over it."
Fourth, in the wake of the potty break request and in the wake of an inept response to this tragedy (the President himself said (in a debate with Al Gore) that catastrophes "are a chance to test your mettle"), can we now officially conclude that this President is an embarrassment? Can we now officially declare that he has been weighed and measured and that he has been found wanting?
What I wouldn't have given for the slightest impression that the President wrote even a phrase of what he read last night. How much I would give if he read the portions that needed to be read (here's where you get help) but spoke from the heart for the rest. How much I wouldn't give for a President who was even capable of such things.
Last night's reading had three basic components:
(a) here's where you get help.
(b) acknowledgement that the storm was bad (although I think he attempted to make the storm into a person by describing it as "cruel and wasteful" - thus making it blameworthy) but moreso recognition that people are great, strike that...recognition that American people are great.
(c) to tell people what his team's plan is in response to the storm (which did not include the call for an independent review).
The first one is about information. The last two are about image. If the government were doing its job, then the first would be unnecessary (how many vicitims had TVs or care what the President had to say? How many can get to a computer to access referenced web sites?). If the actions were there, we wouldn't need a reading to tell us about them. And action in response to a crisis should be plainly obvious.
Make no mistake, therefore, about the primary mission of the reading. It was not to assure the storm victims, it was not to direct them to assistance. It was a rescue mission plain and simple, and the only thing they are trying to rescue is the image of the President.