Think about it. What if Bush had personally gone down to the Superdome last Thursday or Friday and started handing out water himself? Sure, it would have been a P.R. stunt, just like his staged photo-ops with fire-fighters and rescue personnel were. But it would have been an effective stunt, rather than a transparent flop, because it would have demonstrated leadership and resolve. Handled properly, Bush's response to Katrina could have massively shored up Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman's effort to attract black voters to the GOP and helped lift his falling poll ratings. Certainly Bush would have faced the anger of those trapped at the Superdome had he gone there -- an unpredictable situation -- but he could have used his fleet of presidential aircraft to bring in supplies for them to mitigate that, or turned Air Force One into a relief conduit that dropped off supplies before bringing the president in, giving him a grateful and relieved audience. Or he could have worked with the Red Cross to get some kind of private relief effort in place. At such a moment of crisis, who cared what the chain of command was or whose responsibility it was to act? Anyone with the power to mitigate the horror had a personal obligation to do so, and Bush, as commander-in-chief, personally could have done a lot to help people out if he'd wanted to; the nation would have cheered him if he had. Instead, his visits to Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi did little to shore up his support, show leadership, or change facts on the ground.I agree with him that this isn't really effective PR, and certainly not effective use of the symbolic power of the Presidency, but it's clear that all they really want to do is displace blame. I don't think that Rove thinks that he can really make Bush look good, that stupid "pleading" talking point aside... all he can do is obfuscate the blame long enough for the news cycle to end, and do what he can to get the media back on its leash.
Bush's obvious detachment has likely torpedoed the GOP effort to attract African-Americans for another generation, led to on-air discussions on major national networks about whether or not he's a racist (talk about P.R. nightmares), damaged his standing as a leader, thrown the press into open revolt, and scandalized the world.
In that, he's been slightly successful, but for what purpose? Re-election isn't an issue, and the eyes of history are going to say the same thing that the media was saying last week when it (to mix metaphors) got the bit in its teeth- that Bush could have done something, that he didn't, and that all the spin-doctor nonsense about seperation of powers doesn't make a damned bit of difference.
No matter how hard Rove spins it, the failure in New Orleans will be Bush's most infamous legacy.
At least, I honestly hope it will be.