Dr. Teresa Whitehurst: 'How Bush will use Katrina'
Date: Wednesday, September 07 @ 08:49:22 EDT
A sneak preview of the coming damage-control campaign
By Dr. Teresa Whitehurst, BuzzFlash
"Already, many Americans don't remember Bush's initial halting response to 9/11, from which he recovered after a few days with his iconic moment shouting through a bullhorn atop the rubble at ground zero. Still, recovering politically from Katrina is likely to take more effort. There is no foreign enemy against which to rally."
-- For Bush, A Test of Political Skill, 9/6/05
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 Flattery. Sometimes he'll emphasize his resolute leaderly qualities with a smile and a feel-good bit of southern humor:
"Bush took the rare step of delivering his Saturday morning radio broadcast live from the White House Rose Garden with Rumsfeld, Chertoff and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by his side. Bush was resolute and sobering during his remarks, but he smiled when he commented on the people of the region, which he visited Friday. "When you talk to the proud folks in the area, you see a spirit that cannot be broken," he said." President Sending Additional Troops to Hurricane-Damaged Region
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):
"Many of our citizens are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans, and that is unacceptable," said Bush, who planned to return to the stricken region on Monday, a week after Katrina hit." Bush Orders More Troops to Chaos of New Orleans
"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.
"Where our response is not working we'll make it right. Where our response is working we will duplicate it," he said. "This week we have all been humbled by the awesome powers of Mother Nature." Bush Orders More Troops to Chaos of New Orleans
"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:
"I'm pleased to report, thanks to the good work of the adjutant general from Louisiana , and troops that have been called in, that the convention center is secure. One of the objectives that we had today was to move in and secure that convention center, and make sure the good folks there got food and water…And I look forward to continuing to work with the governor and the mayor and the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to do our duty to help the good folks of this part of the world get back on their feet." Bush's Remarks in New Orleans
"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:
"Here's what I believe. I believe that the great city of New Orleans will rise again and be a greater city of New Orleans . (Applause.) I believe the town where I used to come from, Houston , Texas , to enjoy myself -- occasionally too much -- (laughter) -- will be that very same town, that it will be a better place to come to. That's what I believe." Bush's Remarks in New Orleans
"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," [Bush said], referring to the former Senate majority leader who lost his 154-year-old family home in Pascagoula , Miss." President Bush tours Gulf Coast, vows bright future will emerge
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):
"I believe the great state of Louisiana will get its feet back and become a vital contributor to the country. I believe the people of Mississippi will recover. I understand we got a lot of work to do. And I understand it seems dark right now, but by working together and pulling together and capturing that great spirit of our country, a great city will rise again, a great state will be vibrant...May God bless the people of this part of the world, and may God continue to bless our country. Thank you very much. (Applause.)" President Remarks on Hurricane Recovery Efforts
"I know that those of you who have been hit hard by Katrina are suffering. Many are angry and desperate for help. The tasks before us are enormous, but so is the heart of America . In America, we do not abandon our fellow citizens in their hour of need…We have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters all along the Gulf Coast, and we will not rest until we get this right and the job is done…when you talk to the proud folks in the area, you see a spirit that cannot be broken…
"All Americans can be certain our nation has the character, the resources, and the resolve to overcome this disaster. We will comfort and care for the victims. We will restore the towns and neighborhoods that have been lost in Louisiana , Mississippi and Alabama . We'll rebuild the great city of New Orleans . And we'll once again show the world that the worst adversities bring out the best in America …May God bless you, and may God continue to bless our country. President Addresses Nation, Discusses Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts
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.
"The Presidential Prayer Team joins President Bush in asking for prayer for victims of Hurricane Katrina and for the long-term impact of the storm on the entire nation…Offering encouragement to the nation, President Bush said, "I know this is an agonizing time, or we all know this is an agonizing time for the people of the Gulf Coast. I ask their continued patience as recovery operations unfold." He again referred to the intercession of the nation saying, "I can assure them that the thoughts and prayers of the entire nation are with them and their loved ones." …Speaking from the Rose Garden shortly after flying over New Orleans, the President called Katrina the worst natural disaster in our nation's history. "The good folks in Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama and other affected areas are going to need the help and compassion and prayers of our fellow citizens," he said…
"In a telephone call with a PPT representative, Tim Goeglein, special assistant to President Bush, said, "All of us in the Administration are praying for the people who have been impacted by this tragedy." Another response came from Becky Brown, sister of FEMA director Michael Brown, who wrote, "Please pray for all the victims but also pray for all the workers in the relief process." Presidential Prayer Team, Special Hurricane Katrina Edition
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.
"Describing that devastation in Mississippi and elsewhere along the coast that was battered by Katrina's enormous winds, Bush said it was "as if the entire Gulf Coast were obliterated by the worst kind of weapon you can imagine."" Relief Comes to New Orleans in Full Force
"U.S. President George W. Bush said "New Orleans is more devastated than New York was" after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001." It's Worse than 9/11, Bush Says
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.
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.
Reprinted from BuzzFlash: