Carla Binion: 'The unfeeling president should be held accountable'
Date: Thursday, September 08 @ 09:39:03 EDT
By Carla Binion
The novelist E. L. Doctorow once said of George W. Bush, "He is the president who does not feel. He does not feel for the families of the dead, he does not feel for the 35 million of us who live in poverty." Bush's disconnect from normal human feeling, his general lack of seriousness and abysmal leadership skills have always been evident. His response to the recent hurricane has only highlighted them. What are the consequences of our failure to hold Bush accountable?
Bush's demeanor has been eerily upbeat as thousands of corpses floated through the streets of New Orleans . He said in one recent speech, "The good news is - and it's hard for some to see it now - that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast , like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house - he's lost his entire house - there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."
The emotional disconnect runs in the family. After viewing hurricane evacuees at the Houston Astrodome, the president's mother, Barbara Bush, said: "So many of the people in the arena here, you know were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."
If any of us ever doubted that empathy and mature seriousness are necessary character traits in a political leader, few doubt it now. Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina and his failure to promptly aid hurricane victims contributed to thousands, possibly as many as ten thousand, needless deaths. This could be described as criminal negligence or murder by neglect.
The human suffering has been ghastly. One newspaper quoted Robert Lewis, a hurricane victim who was bussed to Texas: "There were bodies floating past my door. We were, like, on an island. We did the best we could. We were just like zombies walking around at night." The same paper reported: "At least a thousand corpses, some being eaten by rats, are floating through the city's drowned streets...People are killing themselves in despair."
In at least one of the city's evacuation shelters, people were murdered and raped, including one child. Tens of thousands lived for days among raw sewage and suffocating heat, with virtually no food and water and no help from government officials.
While this suffering went on, Bush made one flippant remark after another and did lighthearted photo ops. He fell back on Karl Rove-inspired spin, warning that his critics should avoid "politicizing" the hurricane tragedy, as if covering his own tracks were his primary concern.
Much of the misery and death was preventable. Articles in the New Orleans Times-Picayune reveal that Bush cut funding for Army Corp of Engineers projects to strengthen and raise New Orleans levees, despite the paper's repeated warnings that disastrous flooding was certain to occur. The paper reported it was "a matter of when, not if" levee improvement would be needed.
The Times-Picayune reported on June 8, 2004: "It appears that the money [for the levees] has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq ."
Bush also undercut the authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by shifting it into the Department of Homeland Security thereby weakening its effectiveness in preventing catastrophic hurricane damage. Despite these facts, the administration's spin has been that they couldn't have done anything in advance that might have helped alleviate the massive loss of life.
The spin has also been that the president will later conduct his own investigation to determine what went wrong, as if the above information weren't already widely known. We don't need further investigation to show Bush bears responsibility.
For the first two days of the crisis, Bush piddled around his ranch. He gave a speech comparing the Iraq war to World War II, and laughed while playing guitar with a country singer.
He gave silly, out of touch speeches, saying at one press conference on the fourth day after the flooding began, "Hopefully, most people have gotten themselves onto roofs and have been picked up. But, as I said, rather than give you a guesstimate, I can tell you that as long as there is someone on a roof waving a flag, we're going to be sending a helicopter out there to get them."
All Americans who voted for Bush, and those in Congress and the mainstream media who have placed confidence in his leadership, should remember this fact: The signs were there all along that this man didn't have the mental acumen or depth needed to lead the country.
People laughed when warned Bush would only serve as an ill-informed figurehead, delegating all responsibility to others. It turns out the president isn't even good at delegating, considering, for example, the performance of his delegated head of FEMA.
Many media pundits insisted Bush's incurious nature and his failure to read widely or reflect deeply wouldn't be necessary in a president. However, a better informed, more thoughtful leader might have heeded the disaster warnings and acted quickly to save thousands of lives.
As E. L. Doctorow wrote, "The president we get is the country we get. With each president the nation is conformed spiritually. He is the artificer of our malleable national soul. He proposes not only the laws but the kinds of lawlessness that govern our lives and invoke our responses.
"This president does not know what death is. He hasn't the mind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the weapons of mass destruction he can't seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man.
"He does not mourn. He doesn't understand why he should mourn...To mourn is to express regret and he regrets nothing...He does not regret that, rather than controlling terrorism, his war in Iraq has licensed it. So he never mourns for the dead and crippled youngsters who have fought this war of his choice...He cannot mourn but is a figure of such moral vacancy as to make us mourn for ourselves."
As we mourn the unnecessary deaths brought on by Bush's Iraq war and the preventable deaths caused by the recent hurricane, we need to remember that for far too long many Americans coddled and enabled this unfeeling, emotionally disconnected, lightweight, incompetent president. The blood on his hands is also on the hands of any people who knew what he was and supported him anyway, and no amount of Karl Rove's spin or Republican talking points can change that reality.
Bush supporters say now (as they've said since Bush first seized office) that their critics should be silent. They say now isn't the time to address the Bush administration's misconduct regarding the hurricane.
Would this be a bad time to bring up the fact that the majority of Hurricane Katrina's victims were African Americans who were living in poverty? Martin Luther King said in his letter from the Birmingham City Jail: "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of good people."
Knowing what we now know about Bush's character and failed leadership, silence would again be an appalling option. Thousands of lives might have been saved if we'd held this unfeeling, tragically inept president accountable long ago.