Dr. Teresa Whitehurst
September 6, 2005
How Bush Will Use Katrina
A Sneak Preview of the Coming Damage-Control Campaign
I'm always suspicious when I hear people like Newt Gingrich and other conservatives criticize the Bush administration, because it's nearly always a ploy, a tactic used when overwhelming public discontent threatens to rain on the Bush parade. When the whole nation gets up in arms about something, there's no point trying to justify or excuse one's actions; in fact, that would be a stupid thing to do because it would escalate public anger that's already at the boiling point. A brief mea culpa is in order, quickly followed by a brilliant defensive campaign that the mainstream media will be obliged to support.
To rescue Bush from nation-wide disapproval, one has to be careful. To turn that disapproval onto an expendable scapegoat, or two, one has to be smart. To turn collective fury into positive PR, however, one has to be a genius. That's where Karl Rove comes in.
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Here is my prediction: Bush, greatly relieved by Katrina's obliteration of the daily images of Cindy Sheehan and the re-invigorated antiwar movement, will find that the Katrina disaster provides great PR opportunities. He'll start making his "resolute" face a lot and start preaching. He'll stand tall and deliver to the poor and the needy (and voting audiences everywhere) a sermonette at every opportunity filled with flowery, flattering, and inspiring words. In the interests of modesty, I should confess that I can't take full credit for my foresight, because he's already started and, as you'll see, the media is cooperating with the program. Phrases you'll be seeing again and again on the MSM in the coming weeks are italicized by Yours Truly.
Self-praise and Falttery. Sometimes he'll emphasize his resolute leaderly qualities with a smile and a feel-good bit of southern humor:
Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! At other times, he'll tell us the obvious with a Gomer Pyle flair, as if he's the first intrepid soul to see what's going on at the new Ground Zero (a coming metaphor). This will defuse the strong impression that even his supporters have that he dawdled "while Atlanta burned" (another coming metaphor):
"We'll fix it." Every now and then, he'll make it clear that he's a leader who jumps on problems the minute they occur, solving them with a leaderly flair. Note the military term used by Mr. Chertoff, the "after-action report" to figure out what went wrong and then fix it: This goes along with the mantra you'll be hearing again and again, "This is not the time to complain or second-guess our Commander-in-Chief". (Hint: It will never be the time for that.) Legions of Americans will, unfortunately, allow the implied "how dare you complain at a time like this?" approach to subdue them into silence.
"Everything's Going So Well!" Good News and Comforting Words. Again and again, you'll hear Bush sounding very pleased with the rescue effort, very happy in general, just plain joyful, especially when talking about the poor people who couldn't get out:
"Out of the Rubbles of Trent Lott's House": The South Shall Rise Again. Another theme will be "The South Shall Rise Again" Bush will talk as if Atlanta has just burned to the ground and he's Rhett Butler, risking his life by joining the Confederate Army. But Bush will sound even better than Rhett, because he's not just a good ol' boy, he's a faith-based president who inspires us with his beliefs, not icky facts about starvation, drowned poor people, or shoot-to-kill martial law:
United We Stand, Part II. Bush will increasingly talk about the American people standing united with their godly president to help Katrina victims. God will get a lot of airtime in this "unifying" strategy. Subtle references to resentful black victims ("our brothers and sisters") will be accompanied by lots of flattery aimed at all survivors (but targeted at voters across the country):
The Power of Prayer, Part II. But most of all, you'll hear Preacher Bush deftly change the topic when Americans accuse him of diverting essential manpower and equipment to his bogus wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or bleeding Louisiana dry of the funds needed to maintain the levees that were breached by Katrina. To what will he change the subject? To that voter-friendly and cheap commodity, prayer, of course. (FYI for non-evangelical readers: When you pray for someone other than yourself, the evangelical term is "intercession" (noun) or "intercede" (verb)).
Like conservative compassion, intercession is a political goldmine because it makes bad presidents look good, doesn't cost your constituency one thin dime…and if you talk it up often enough, you can even get nonprofit status from the IRS for profitable capitalist ventures or "faith-based" GOP lobbying groups. And really, who'll publicly object to something that sounds so sweet, so noble, so very Christian? Well, maybe God and some wild-eyed liberal Christians on account of Bush's repeated misrepresentations of God as One who blesses America and nobody else. But God doesn't have a column in The New Bush Times, and has never once shown up at Fox News, so no worries.
Katrina is Just Like 9/11. Look for the mainstream news to start repeating Bush's Katrina-9/11 parallels, designed to help Bush revive his flagging popularity by likening this super-hurricane to a terrorist attack. This parallel will (Bush's advisors hope) arouse in anxious, confused victims and bystanders the same "Power of Pride" unity that's successfully deflected criticism of Bush for years. And just imagine the possibilities for expanding presidential powers, justifying martial law, getting Americans used to the idea of Iraq-style military "pacification" of largely black urban "trouble spots", etc.
Sure it's a false association, ridiculous in fact, but so what? If the 9/11-Pearl Harbor-al Qaeda-Saddam Hussein-Katrina parallels can keep Americans from thinking about the Bush administration's culpability for this nightmarish tragedy, Preacher Bush will gladly use them. When we all go up in smoke it'll be too late to complain, but in the meantime he and his buddies will be livin' large.
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Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist, author of Jesus on Parenting: 10 Essential Principles That Will Transform Your Family (2004) and coauthor of The Nonviolent Christian Parent (2004). She offers parenting workshops, holds discussion groups on Nonviolent Christianity, and writes the column, "Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldn't Have to Choose Just One" as seen on her website.