President George W. Bush, an experienced cheerleader, was optimistic about our nation's economy at the Republican National Convention last week.
He always is. "I think our economy has got very strong underpinning," he said. "We've certainly gone through a correction. But there are signs we're improving."
Yep, that's what Bush said -- more than three years ago, on Aug. 23, 2001, and that's what he's still saying. As our economy slowly sinks into the abyss created by Bush's spendthrift ways, he keeps telling us how much it's improving.
Give Bush credit for chutzpah. No lie is too outrageous for him to repeat over and over again, such as his endlessly repeated implication that Saddam Hussein was somehow in cahoots with Osama bin Laden and the Sept. 11 crimes.
After a shaky start, Bush got his reputation as a leader on Sept. 14, 2001, when he grabbed a bullhorn at ground zero in New York and shouted into it: "We hear you! And I hear you. And America hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear you very soon."
Bush's bullhorn stunt was good theater, just as last week's convention was good theater, so the firefighters and others sifting through the deadly debris duly cheered him, grateful he had found New York at last, after three days of indecision.
The real Bush, the one without the script or the bullhorn, was revealed within minutes of the Sept. 11 attacks. When told of the attacks, he sat immobile and perplexed for at least five minutes.
He just sat there. He had no idea what to do. Today's spin from the White House is that he was demonstrating calmness under fire. Ha!
Can you imagine either Al Gore or John Kerry freezing up the way Bush did on Sept. 11?
Even after he came out of his trance, Bush didn't know what to do. He boarded Air Force One in Sarasota, Fla., had his pilots fly first east over the Atlantic and then fly west to Louisiana. After a short stopover there, he took to the skies again, slithering off to Nebraska.
Meanwhile, in Washington, nobody was in charge. Vice President Dick Cheney tentatively filled the leadership vacuum, but he did so cautiously, fearful he might be accused of overstepping his authority.
Finally, assured that the bad guys had perished and he could safely play leader again, Bush returned to Washington. At 8:30 p.m. Eastern time, almost 11 hours after he learned of the attacks, he read a short statement to the American people before toddling off to bed.
This is the man touted last week as the great leader America needs. What? Peewee Herman isn't available?
n true Bush fashion, he has had his apologists blame the Secret Service and the FBI for his tortured attempts to hide on Sept. 11. A pliable press has not questioned that explanation.
Bush is touted by his publicists as a leader who stands by his decisions, but in fact (according to the columnist Arianna Huffington at ariannaonline.com), he has "flip-flopped more frequently than a blind gymnast with an inner-ear infection."
Huffington lists examples. A few: Capturing Osama bin Laden went from "our number one priority" to "it's not that important"; he opposed a Department of Homeland Security, then supported it; he opposed a 9/11 commission, then supported it; he declared gay rights an issue for the states; then pushed for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
And so on. Some of my favorites: In 2000, he was opposed to the kind of "nation building" we're doing today in Iraq. He opposes drug use, yet in Afghanistan we protect the world's largest opium poppy crop. His tax cut to the rich was first a way of "paying back" those who had overpaid, later a tool to fight recession. He came into office determined to protect us from terrorists or rogue nations by pursing Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" defense plan, later he forgot the idea.
Flip and flop.
Bush, the salesman, is strong on bait and switch, but he lacks true leadership skills. Yet he audaciously fancies himself the savior of the world. In his hour-long acceptance rant last Thursday, he revealed the barest outlines of his egomaniacal desire to remold the world in America's image.
As I listened, I imagined voices all over the world responding with, "Bring it on, Cowboy, bring it on!"
America needs a true leader, one who can fill the common-sense vacuum created by the one-man wrecking crew known as George W. Bush.
Harley Sorensen is a longtime journalist. His column appears Mondays. E-mail him at email@example.com.
©2004 SF Gate