Wednesday, September 07, 2005


One useful action that I think needs to take place to sort out everything that's going on is to disconnect the different threads of criticism. Why? Because some critiques don't necessarily have that much to do with one another, and trying to mash them together into some organic whole allows for more effective use of the "shotgun" counterattack that the Bush administration is on about.

After all, if it's one big target, they're bound to hit something.

I'll discuss one example, the "Bush didn't stop his vacation" and "FEMA screwed up badly and delayed too long" critiques. They're related, but don't entirely overlap, and not making the distinction has obscured why the vacation is an issue. While Bush appointed the hapless FEMA execs, there was also the distinct possibility that I highlighted earlier that the "security at all costs" mentality that prompted FEMA to keep aid workers out may have more to do with hand-me-down military culture than anything else.

More importantly, though, it blurs the real reason why Bush needed to stop the vacation and get involved immediately: the symbolic role of the presidency. The president of the United States is essentially an elected constitutional monarch; there are major differences, but the symbolic role (if not the substantive role) is pretty similar. Bush couldn't, and shouldn't, have been personally responsible for coordinating the situation on the ground; that was the job of the people that he hired to do the job, and he hired them long before this vacation started. Instead, he should have cut his vacation short prior to the hurricane and done what he actually *could* to help in order to exploit that symbolic role to help remind the people of the United States and especially the people in the hurricane-afflicted areas that he does care about them, that the situation does bother him, and that through him they have the attention and sympathy of the United States of America as a whole.

It's kind of like why the Royal Family was picking through the rubble of London during the Blitz- it's symbolic, and symbols are important.

It's the symbolic element of what Bush did that outraged everybody. He showed that he didn't care. Repeatedly. Every public appearance, every stupid quip, every strummed guitar- he showed that he thought that the survivors were beneath his notice, like the kind of kings that the Americans rebelled against in the first place.

No matter what he does now, that damage is done. The political veil has been dropped over the symbolic role of the presidency, and any effort he makes now will just be seen as a political gesture, even were it genuine. That sense of unimportance will linger in the minds of all Americans, even those who defend the president's substantial actions.

He didn't care about New Orleans, so why should he care about them?

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