Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Bush's Leadership: Running on Empty

Published on Wednesday, September 28, 2005
by the Boston Globe
by Joan Vennochi

George W. Bush is running out of gas, and the country knows it.

This week, the president asked Americans to drive less to conserve gasoline. Bush also issued a directive for all federal agencies to cut their own energy use and to encourage employees to use public transportation.

How about parking Air Force One for awhile, Mr. President?

Bush took his seventh trip to view hurricane rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast. Storm-chasing, like mountain-biking, is now a presidential obsession. Instead of calories, this latest compulsion burns time and jet fuel.

After Hurricane Katrina, Bush and federal relief agencies took too long to show up when it mattered. But showing up when it doesn't matter will not repair the damage to Bush's battered image. Having Michael Brown, the deposed head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency blame "dysfunctional" Louisiana for hurricane response problems doesn't help Bush either. "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" is a presidential assessment that already stands to haunt Bush for a long time.

It's time for the president to get out of the floodwaters. A successful CEO does not work the assembly line, although showing up to watch it once in a while isn't a bad idea. A successful CEO has a strong vision, can articulate it, and makes certain to hire competent professionals to implement it from top to bottom.

Americans are losing faith in Bush, the country's CEO, on all three counts. Restoring public confidence takes more than photo-ops to hurricane-ravaged territory.

During last year's presidential campaign, Bush cultivated a cowboy-booted, man of the people image. It helped him come across as more approachable than his opponent. More recently, from Cindy Sheehan to Katrina, the country saw the arrogance of power a Bush presidency can breed. The president who could drive past a Gold Star mother because he does not agree with her politics could also fly over a drowning city.

Katrina unleashed such public and political fury that Bush was forced to address it. But his efforts to connect with the American people have fallen fall short of his iconic "bullhorn" moment at Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Belatedly accepting responsibility for the system-wide breakdown after Katrina helped Bush a bit. His follow-up speech from New Orleans was relatively well-received, but its policy implications were controversial within his own party. Since then, Hurricane Rita struck Texas and Lousiana with less force than predicted. Even so, hurricane-related disruptions in oil production leave the country facing higher energy costs in the coming winter.

Now, belatedly, the president asks for sacrifice from the average citizen. That concept, like many, is foreign to Bush. Because of his administration's policies, sacrifice is foreign to us, too. And that is a problem for the president.

His entire presidency is based on the premise that Americans can have it all, without sacrifice. We can wage a bloody, costly war and not feel any pinch in resources at home. We can cut taxes and still have No Child Left Behind. We can drive gas-guzzling SUVS without regard for dependence on foreign oil. We can eliminate the estate tax and still rebuild New Orleans.

This administration believes in new oil production, not conservation. It chose not to impose higher mileage standard on automakers. Bush's indifference to repeated warnings of global warming is now coming back to haunt him, too, in the form of rising seas. The next time, those waters may wash right up the Potomac to engulf Washington, D.C. The political waters already have.

Where in the president's call for sacrifice is any sense that he now understands the disconnect between his policies and better government, responsive to all, not just the wealthy few? Where in his call for sacrifice is any sense that he is in this post-Katrina-Rita mess with the rest of us?

Bush and his father may get gussied up like cowpokes every so often so the press corps will think they are self-made men. But more Americans understand a Bush administration operates the federal government as a wholly owned subsidiary of America's capitalist class. Bush has nothing but disdain for those clinging desperately to society's bottom rungs. And Bush's weak call for our sacrifice shows disdain for those clinging to the middle rungs, too.

The simple truth: Making an actual sacrifice is less painful than listening to Bush talk about it.

© 2005 Boston Globe


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