|September 16, 2005|
Why Are We Surprised?
A BUZZFLASH GUEST
A day or so after the first presidential debate between John Kerry and George W. Bush—an event in which Mr. Bush’s weaknesses and Mr. Kerry’s strengths were in sharp relief, even according to critics of Kerry—a friend of mine, a very religious elderly woman, expressed dismay about Bush’s poor performance. A ray of hope, I thought! If this conservative woman in a red state could go for Kerry, maybe there's a chance.
"So," I asked, trying to suppress my glee, "you'll be voting for Kerry after all?"
"No," she sighed. "I just can't vote for a man who's not religious."
Not religious? Hmm. Maybe she thought I meant the Libertarian candidate.
This exchange epitomized for me the mind-set that returned George W. Bush to the presidency. Despite all evidence to the contrary, despite reasoning, facts, a failed war, rising unemployment; despite years of evidence that this individual with an epic lack of intellectual curiosity is possibly the most uninformed person who has ever held public office—at any level—there it was! Faith, fear, instinct, gut-check—call it what you will. That woman pulled the lever for someone whose political machine had convinced her that the other guy, a practicing Catholic running for office more than forty years after John Kennedy's presidency, was godless.
Yet now we're in shock and awe. Not the "shock and awe" of our wondrous attack on Baghdad in 2003, nor of the cataclysmic natural event that befell the Gulf Coast, but about the failure of Bush's government to respond to that disaster. Of all the questions being asked about who's responsible and who's to blame, my question is simply why are we surprised?
In recent weeks, pundits and politicians have excoriated the Administration from the editorial pages of the New York Times to the farthest reaches of the blogosphere. The press, which has allowed itself to be manipulated by BushCo from the first days of the first term, has begun to act like the press again instead of an arm of the White House communications department, as we've seen from Anderson Cooper, Bryan Williams, and others. Cracks have even appeared in the conservative façade, with Trent Lott, Newt Gingrich, and Roy Blunt expressing dismay at the government's response to the disaster.
Yet the record of the Bush Administration offers clear evidence that Americans should be anything but surprised at the incompetency of the politicos and ideologues running the country. Listing their blunders, manipulations, and outright lies would take a Sears catalogue, with specials on misrepresenting environmental stewardship as economically detrimental; creating a false and historically jaded dichotomy between science and religion; running trade and government deficits that even give pause to many on the right; allowing porous borders to widen further, after uncountable campaign assurances that our nation's security is the first priority of this administration; and of course, bringing us a second Vietnam through some of the most cynical fear-mongering ever seen in this country. It's now obvious to all but the rabidly deluded that the business of the Bush Administration has been securing power at all costs and not running the country effectively or safely.
What about natural disasters? That's the current concern. Bush's oblivion to the plight of the Gulf Coast has been well documented in recent weeks, but there have been other disasters. Take, for example, hurricanes Frances, Charley, and Jeanne. Bush was Johnny-on-the-spot for those storms. And as tragic as they were, who would argue that they rank on a scale whose metrics have been redefined by Katrina?
But Bush was there, and federal aid was quick in coming too. Why? Well, those hurricanes not only occurred in hurricane season, but they had the good timing (both for Bush and for Floridians) to show up during campaign season. On September 29, 2004, according to an Associated Press article, Bush toured Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Jeanne as he traveled to the same presidential debate I referenced above. In fact, in the same state in which a few more than 500 votes decided the 2000 election, Bush requested $7 billion in aid on the day before the debate. He was all over the region in the wake of Frances, Charley, and Jeanne, visiting Florida on August 15 and 27, and both Florida and Alabama on September 8 and 19 of 2004. Kerry's ability to campaign in hurricane-ravaged Florida was limited because he was not a sitting president touring a natural disaster.
Bush's entourage bristled at the suggestion that the president's attention to the area was politically motivated. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said, "It's about helping [hurricane victims] respond and recover from the damage of these storms."
Too bad for New Orleans that Bush isn't running for office now, instead of just running away from Cindy Sheehan in Crawford.
This is the president who, according to his campaign, is supposed to make us safer, who puts the security of America before all else, who chants 9/11 in response to any question no matter its irrelevance. But we can now see that the straight-shooter, "our-world-needs-a-new-definition-of-security" president is just a shallow and inept man behind a curtain trying to frighten the very people he should be trying to lead. To say that BushCo acts only in the interest of its political ends is to grossly understate the tragic consequences of putting politics and ideology first. It's not merely that they're incompetent. They surely employ incompetents, as Michael Brown's tenure illustrates. But they're not motivated to become competent. Competency is not and never was the point. Ideology is the point.
To return to my original example, those who voted for Bush and now shake their heads in dismay—as recent polls suggest many are doing—might well ask themselves if placing Roe v. Wade before all other issues isn't the reason we have this disaster, or perhaps believing the swift-boating of John Kerry, or maintaining a willful ignorance of the facts surrounding the Iraq War, or suffering from the myopia that comes from watching too many flags fluttering in the background of so-called "news" reports. Should we also be shocked that Halliburton is first on the spot to rebuild New Orleans?
That Bush is ignorant and incompetent is not news. What we see of him at his best is the product of careful handling and manipulation, and at his worst, it's when the dog got off the leash for a few moments. What we have to ask ourselves is why are we surprised?
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Writing under the pseudonym Rob Driscoll, Bob Sommer is the author of American Holidays: Short Stories (2002).
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