In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus explains how to sort true from false prophets. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves,” Jesus said. “By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.”
I’ve always thought this to be good advice that can be applied to many circumstances — judge people not by what they promise, but by what they accomplish. We might assume, for example, that we can judge the quality of a leader by looking at the results of his leadership. That seems basic. Yet there are always people who can”t see past the image, the persona, and the promise, and who will follow a genuinely bad leader off a cliff.
Take New Orleans. A few days ago a video made pre-Katrina came to light, and in it the President exhibited all the leadership qualities of soggy toast. The Right came to Bush’s defense, saying that it’s wrong to judge an entire presidency by one video. And they are right. If it were just one video, I’d say, ignore it.
But it isn’t just one video, is it? Sidney Blumenthal writes in today’s Guardian,
In New Orleans, a sad Mardi Gras has come and gone, while crews from the morgue continue searching for bodies – still finding them. The city has lost more than half its population, most of the refugees are African-Americans, and their neighbourhoods remain scenes of devastation. Having rejected a plan for rebuilding, Bush travelled to New Orleans for another photo-opportunity this week to announce a programme that would supposedly give money to the homeless but absurdly will not permit destroyed housing to be replaced by new. Not one penny so far has been spent on new homes. Six months after the tempest, New Orleans, one of the glories of American life and culture, lies in ruins, and Bush visits to pose as visionary.
Even more pathetic, yesterday the Weenie-in-Chief blamed Congress for the sluggish response. As Glenn Greenwald said — conservative belief in “personal responsibility” is so over.
This Associated Press story from February 25 describes the fruits of George Bush’s leadership:
Leave the French Quarter on Rampart and head east, toward the devastated Ninth and Lower Ninth wards and East New Orleans.
All around are the carcasses of flooded houses. Katrina laid waste to more than 215,000 homes. Many are abandoned, their doors wide open.
Only an estimated 189,000 of the city’s roughly 500,000 pre-Katrina residents have returned. For now, the city is overwhelmingly whiter and more affluent than it was before.
Affordable housing is scarce, and FEMA has only filled 48,158 of the 90,000 trailer requests it’s received from displaced families in Louisiana, leaving many to wait out their existence in places like Atlanta, Houston and Little Rock. With only 20 of 128 public schools now open, parents who can’t afford to send their children to private schools have no choice but to live elsewhere.
Children who have returned must wade through wreckage to get to school. “You never really get used to it,” said 18-year-old Mark Buchert, a senior at Brother Martin, an all-boys Catholic high school in the devastated Gentilly neighborhood.
The destruction gets worse. Keep driving as Rampart turns into St. Claude Avenue and you’ll go six miles before you pass a working traffic light. Broken signals swing from their poles like men hanging from gallows. Others blink red. Elsewhere, they lie on their side in intersections, blinking yellow. …
… At night, the darkness is pervasive. Six months after the storm made landfall Aug. 29, a little over a third of the structures in the city have electricity. Even fewer have hot water or cooking gas.
This situation is not just the fault of the federal government; state and local government don’t seem to be terribly functional, either. But Louisiana is a poor state with limited resources. This is a situation that cries out for someone to step in and take charge; someone who can marshal the resources of the nation and send them where they are desperately needed.
And normally that someone would be the President of the United States. I’m not saying the POTUS should personally fill out requisitions and inspect street lamps. But he should be following up, rattling cages, lighting fires, busting heads, and making things happen.
Instead, as the hurricane hit, Bush called the head of Homeland Security to talk about immigration, then went to a birthday party. The next day, Bush gave a speech on Iraq at a California naval base and later played with a borrowed guitar. The day after that, as conditions in New Orleans deteriorated, Bush promised to work with a task force to coordinate reief efforts. Finally, four days after Katrina made landfall, Bush’s aides had him watch a DVD of television news reports so that he would understand how bad the situation was. They had to stage an intervention, because the President had done nothing to learn on his own.
It isn’t just one video. And the whole world was watching.
And it isn’t just New Orleans. Google “Bush incompetence” and you’ll get a fruitbasket of hits. Some of you may remember the Harold Meyerson column of January 25 —
In numbing profusion, the newspapers are filled with litanies of screw-ups. Yesterday’s New York Times brought news of the first official assessment of our reconstruction efforts in Iraq, in which the government’s special inspector general depicted a policy beset, as Times reporter James Glanz put it, “by gross understaffing, a lack of technical expertise, bureaucratic infighting [and] secrecy.” At one point, rebuilding efforts were divided, bewilderingly and counterproductively, between the Army Corps of Engineers and, for projects involving water, the Navy. That’s when you’d think a president would make clear in no uncertain terms that bureaucratic turf battles would not be allowed to impede Iraq’s reconstruction. But then, the president had no guiding vision for how to rebuild Iraq — indeed, he went to war believing that such an undertaking really wouldn’t require much in the way of American treasure and American lives.
Meyerson goes on to discuss what he calls Bush’s most “mind-boggling failure” — the Medicare prescription drug plan. Personally, I don’t think any failure can beat Iraq. But there’s so much more — plutonium processing in North Korea, an out-of-control budget deficit, the failure to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, the failure to follow through on basic homeland security measures — in fact, is there anything this Administration has done that’s been a success?
Yesterday saw another staged Bush “event” in New Orleans, in which the President was photographed in rolled-up sleeves shaking hands with contractors in hard hats. He certainly knows how to look like a leader. But while the President who claims to be a “problem-solver” whines that the problems with recovery efforts in New Orleans are Congress’s fault, we might ask what Bush has done in the past six months to get Congress to act. Bush’s endless series of disaster relief photo ops may have some entertainment value, but they aren’t picking up the debris or rebuilding the homes.
“The corrupt tree produces evil fruit,” Jesus said. Too true.