Thursday, September 01, 2005

Big Dog, Come Home
I've spent almost the entire day following the Katrina story, and writing about it here. Late this afternoon, I was over at War Room, and read the post about the hurricane relief news conference with Bush and his two predecessors:
As Bush ended his talk about gas prices and relief efforts today, Bill Clinton lingered for a moment in front of the cameras as if he wanted to say something or at least hear Bush say something more. The president walked briskly out of the room.
It reminded me of something I'd seen on Wonkette, so I clicked over there to read about the same event:
The highlight, however, was the awkward moment after Bush shook hands with both Clinton and dad. Clinton kind of held back, put his arm on H.W.'s arm and held him back, and looked expectantly at the cameras. . . You know it would kind of had made sense to have someone with an empathy gene talk.
What happened next hit me like the proverbial ton o'bricks: the headlong rushing realization that goddammit, I want my president back.

Come home, Bill. Your country needs you.

On the afternoon the Challenger blew, in 1986, Ronald Reagan went before the TV cameras and made the greatest speech of his presidency. Remember that stuff about how the astronauts had slipped the surly bonds of earth and touched the face of God? It was pitch-perfect, exactly what needed to be said, and no American then living could have said it better. Sure, Reagan was an actor, and by '86 he may have already had the Alzheimer's, but on that day, he was a comfort to everybody, no matter what their political persuasion. Clinton, for all his other faults, really has the "empathy gene," and say what you want about his ability as an actor, I believe he'd say the right thing now too, and make us believe it, just as Reagan did. We would go to bed tonight feeling a little better, and tomorrow we'd wake up knowing that while there is still an overwhelming lot of healing work to be done, there's no question that we'll do it and be as great as we ever were when we're through.

Being president is, of course, about more than just showing off the symbols of office and applying salve to the national soul. You have to run the show, and if Clinton were president now, he'd know how to help those people on the Gulf Coast, and he'd make damn personally sure people got helped, and if they didn't get helped, the Presidential Boot would be applied to the appropriate asses. He'd get in a damn boat and see things for himself, or at least a helicopter, instead of zooming 5,000 feet overhead in his flying palace. He'd stay up for days straight if he had to, and he'd make the whole thing look as easy as falling out of bed. He'd be a leader.

Not our current non-actor, our alleged CEO president. He may have pulled off a clever simulation of leadership on September 11, but whatever mojo he possessed back then is long gone now. There's no comfort in his words and no empathy on his face. There's no sense that he's personally responding to challenges, or that he even fully grasps what the challenges are. He offers nothing but empty platitudes, and the abiding sense that not only isn't he up to this challenge, he'll never be up to any challenge facing this country, unless it involves an overgrowth of brush. I'm ashamed of him, and I'm ashamed for him.

Anybody who loves his country knows that this is one of those moments that requires a leader--somebody who gives you confidence in his ability to move the levers of government, but also somebody we can rally around, somebody who'll say the right thing in the right way. We've got nobody.

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