Image and Action

Lots of bloggers are linking to this New York Times article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “Year After Katrina, Bush Still Fights for 9/11 Image.”

When the nation records the legacy of George W. Bush, 43rd president and self-described compassionate conservative, two competing images will help tell the tale.

The first is of Mr. Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, bullhorn in hand, feet planted firmly in the rubble of the twin towers. The second is of him aboard Air Force One, on his way from Crawford, Tex., to Washington, peering out the window at the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina thousands of feet below.

If the bungled federal response to Hurricane Katrina called into question the president’s competence, that Air Force One snapshot, coupled with wrenching scenes on the ground of victims who were largely poor and black, called into question something equally important to Mr. Bush: his compassion.

A year later, he has yet to recover on either front.

Stolberg goes on to say that Bush’s approval raitings never rebounded. You know the story by now.

Josh Marshall Matt Yglesias:

In particular, the centrality of 9/11 to Bush’s political persona has always struck me as under-analyzed. It’s a strange thing primarily because Bush didn’t really do anything on 9/11 or its immediate aftermath. Terrorists hijacked four planes and sought to crash them into buildings. They succeeded in doing so with three of the planes. Thousands died. The physical destruction was enormous. It was terrible. But it wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been. The passengers on one plane downed it before it could reach its target. Many people were evacuated from the World Trade Center and their lives were saved. But none of the good work that was done on that day — and there was some good, heroic work done — was done by the president or had anything in particular to do with him.

Rather, the good vibes about 9/11 Bush all, in essence, relate to a series of speeches he gave in the days following the event (his immediate evening-of speech was poorly receieved). And I think they were good speeches. The rubble/bullhorn event was a good event. The address to a joint session of congress was great, too. But what does that all really amount to?

IMO you can say the same thing about Rudy Guiliani. All he had to do after 9/11 was be on television.

His popularity skyrocketed because, having failed to foil a serious terrorist plot, he made a series of pleasing remarks about the plot. And ever since that day, I think this dynamic has been infecting our national strategy. The main goal, in essence, is to do things that signify the adoption of an appropriate attitude toward hostile elements in the world rather than to evaluate possible courses of action in terms of their effects.

The debate on Iraq is just awash in this. The war gets discussed as if it’s a metaphor of some kind. A good opportunity to demonstrate resolve or commitment, or else the lack thereof. A place where our stick-to-it-iveness will show how strongly we feel that democracy is good. A shadow theater wherein we send messages to al-Qaeda or Iran or what have you have. But, of course, Iraq is a real place. The soldiers and civilians in that country are real people. They shoot real bullets and detonate real explosives. And so the question has to be, what, actually, is being achieved? What more might realistically be achieved? What are the consequences — not intentions, not desires, not hopes, but consequences — of our policies?

I’ve ranted the same rant many times. This Administration doesn’t know how to do anything except put on an act. What’s pathetic is that so many Americans didn’t notice for so long.

Other comments:


Bush oh so wishes that we would forget Katrina, forget My Pet Goat, forget the August 6th memo, forget his frantic flight to Nebraska, forget his promise to wage a crusade, forget that he didn’t even know the difference between Shi’a and Sunnis before he asked Richard Clarke to find phantom evidence against Iraq…

Yes, if we can forget all of that, then maybe we can see him again standing on the rubble with his bullhorn, talking tough and making us feel better for a half a moment. Never in history has a politician attempted to get more mileage out of a single photo op. For me, Bush will always be reading My Pet Goat.


Katrina gave even those who were supportive of the president and thought he could do no wrong a much-needed dose of reality: with the horribly bungled response to Katrina, they had to admit that there is no there in this presidency. There was a veneer of resolute strength that was blown away for good by Katrina.

8 thoughts on “Image and Action

  1. I am all over the blogosphere, like any good poster, and I must say that maha is hands down the best at shining the light of truth on the vile, wiggling AssClowns who ‘run’ this nation. In a society of intelligent active citizens Bush and Cheney et. al. would now be resting comfortably in jail cells…if not their graves.

    These ‘leaders’ and their followers are a pack of deranged psychopths who have done and are doing fearful damage to our nation and society while most Americans doze in an alchoholic stupor in front of the TV.

    Thankfully, maha is not one of those.

    Keep hammerin” away. The people are starting to listen.

    And yeah, I think Losermann, Emmanuel, Schumer and The Boxer Short are scum too.

  2. What do you expect from a cheerleader?

    You have to discount everything the guy says – which is purely there for public manipulation – and look what his regime actually does:

    – The regime starts wars overseas, over phony reasons, because the rich and powerful want them. Realize that Bush and Cheney are oilmen. We wouldn’t be in Iraq if the principal export was grapefruit.

    – The regime turns all problems and disasters, large (Katrina) and more quiet ones (the unaffordability of health care) into opportunities to improve their political position. They are plainly not interested in solving these problems for the benefit of all. They are plainly interested in using them to gain more power for themselves.

    In every case, government is a tool to be used to the regime’s political advantage. It is a profit center. So is the entire country for that matter, something to be milked in as many ways possible.

    As such, Bush plays a very important role – he’s the PR guy who placates the rubes. Despite his upper class origins, he has managed to skillfully affect a lower class vibe that attracts lots of under-achievers like himself. You could have a beer with this guy. As such, he’s a very important player in the right’s takeover of this country. He’s just the front guy, he’s not the one who’s really calling the shots, in many cases. Others, like Cheney or Rove, with Junior’s blessing, create the context, or the situations that Junior finds himself in, performing in front of the public.

    Actions speak louder than words. Turn down the volume on Bush and see what his regime is really doing.

    I hope you don’t mind me going a little OT.

    I had a dream last night, where I was speaking with George Bush. He was very open, friendly, and candid with me, and I felt disarmed and drawn into his circle of acquaintanceship. I was mostly listening in the dream, and not challenging him on anything political, both because he disarmed me, and because it was evident in the dream that he was insane.

    In the dream, he spoke about how he never liked “El Shaddai” or something similar – Bush mangled the phrase, and it was to him an abbreviation for a nonsensical saying, which he spelled out to me, but I don’t remember. In my waking life, I know thise phrase to be a synonym for God, particularly God the Father. In the dream Bush went on to say that he wanted to “blow up the sky”, meaning climb into an F-16 or other jet and start blowing things up.

    The rest of the dream involved me finding others in the military or government to somehow stop this guy. What was interesting is that nobody needed convincing that the man was insane and needed to be stopped. It was just a question of how.

    Lots of Oedipal themes here, and what was so real to me was Bush’s utter childishness and the completely open way he revealed his childishness. It was like conversing with a six year old who happened to be at the head of the most powerful nation on earth.

    I hope this was at least entertaining, to me it was also revealing. Thanks for indulging me.

  3. Lord help me if I ever dream about Dubya; it’ll be icepick lobotomy time, the instant I wake up.

    Not having cable, and thus cut out of watching Spike Lee’s Katrina films, I settled for tonight’s Dateline with Brian Williams. Yes, I know; all msm is shudder-inducing. But a year later, Bri is still one very pissed-off American. He may not carry the moral weight of Uncle Walter finally blowing the lid off the debacle of ‘Nam, but he reiterated every skin-crawling, heart-wrenching, fist-clenching horror of those five days last year, and I found myself boiling over with rage all over again. If anyone else was watching, and they have a functioning heart and brain, I expect they were feeling exactly the same.

    And the election is 10 weeks from tomorrow….

  4. Bush , and the ancestral ranch he has owned since all of 1999, pretty much are both best described as “all hat, no cattle.” His ranch is the very IMAGE of a working ranch, albeit a clean one, uncontaminated, say, by any livestock or anything like that.

    What I’ll remember of 9-11 was that the acting President of the United States was Karen Hughes… the actual president seemed to be on a cross-country joyride. Ironic, given that he was a short car ride away from Central Command at McDill AFB near Tampa at the time the nation (or at least, those of us expendable people in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn who didn’t vote for the whiny, phony little bastard and therefore really didn’t need it anyway) needed some level of reassurance that our nation was remotely capable of protecting us… got nothin’.

    Which is pretty much what the po’ folks in New Orleans got as well.

  5. What you all seem to be saying is that Bush and his henchmen’s rhetoric, spin,disinformation, propoganda etc is very very good, but there is no substance. I agree. One of the tricks that Bush et al use with regularity is the straw man. Those who disagree with the tactics employed such as warrantless wire taps do not want to fight the “war on terrosim” or as I guess they are now calling it the war on Islamic facism whatever the hell that means.Of course that is not the case–we just think our constitution means something and we are loathe to give up our liberties because of the incompetence of those who currently hold high office in this country. Cheny used that particular straw man in a speech I heard on C-span last night. Today I heard a couple of folks make the argument that the criticism about the federal response to Katrina is misplaced because good Americans would not look to the government to bail them out in the first place. Another straw man. Conservatives have every right to debate the size of government. While I happen to disagree with their position, the point here is that the federal government did assume responsibility in connection with Katrina, took my hard earned tax dollars to discharge that responsibility and made a total and complete hash of it. That was due to the incompetence of Bush, the political cronies he appointed to important positions and the corruption that has been particularly rampant since the GOP took over all branches of government. Why do they get away with this? IMHO because of the total and complete abdication of responsibility by the mainstream media. Thank heavens there are blogs like this one to provide some small amount of truth in the national discourse.

  6. When I was actively blogging, it occurred to me that if the Bush administration consistently appears to be run by utter incompetents, that may be simply that I am judging their achievements in relation to their stated goals.

    I thought about that and eventually asked myself what someone who ignored their stated goals would make of their actual accomplishments.

    “Actions speak louder than words.”

    I think that someone who evaluated them that way would decide that they’re actually a fairly competent bunch of thieves and con-artists, and that they have no more interest in their stated policy goals than will harmonize with funneling an awful lot of our money to their cronies.

    That explains their work as well as anything else I can come up with.

    With kind regards,
    Dog, etc.
    searching for home

  7. I thought that the President’s speaches just after 9/11 were at his usual level, i.e., unwatchable. I think that a lot of people wanted to be reassured, and they projected that upon him. But then, I was one of the 30% who never drunk the Kook-aid.

  8. I thought that the President’s speaches just after 9/11 were at his usual level, i.e., unwatchable.

    He didn’t win me over, either. His address to Congress a few days after 9/11 received wild acclaim, you might recall — that was the “let’s roll” speech — but it struck me at the time as being all rhetoric, no content.

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