He looked ready for hard work.
He used the words “compassion” and “kindness” and “sympathy” and “respect” and “care” and “generosity” and “courage” and “strength” and “resolve.”
The White House speechwriter must have a sore thumb from going through the thesaurus to find a way to project the President in the most positive light.
This speech was an attempt at image-saving, not life-saving.
“The work of rescue is largely finished,” Bush put it, creepily.
Because the fact remains that hundreds of people were not rescued on time.
Bush awoke to this disaster 17 days and hundreds of lives too late.
And he can now try to wax eloquent about the valiant work of the Coast Guard, and he can try to say with a straight face that many members of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security “performed skillfully” when the leaders of those organizations were lethally negligent.
And he can now praise the work of coroners “who gather the dead, treat them with respect, and prepare them for their rest.”
But the fact is that many died needlessly, not just by “a cruel and wasteful storm” but by an inept and careless government.
Now, suddenly, George W. Bush recognizes the importance of federal funding to repair the “public infrastructure.”
It’s a little late for that, after letting the levees go.
Now, suddenly, George W. Bush discovers the existence of “deep, persistent poverty” after heedlessly watching it steadily grow every year of his Administration.
But he acted like this poverty was endemic only to the Gulf Coast, and not to the entire nation.
And so he offered no proposals at all for tackling poverty on a national scale.
He did present a couple of valuable initiatives to help out the poor in the Gulf Coast, including grants of up to $5,000 for each evacuee for job training, education, and child care while looking for a job.
And his Urban Homesteading Act, offering low-income citizens federal government land, free of charge, to build their homes on would have been denounced as rank socialism had it come from a Democrat.
But mostly he vested his hopes on businesses and the churches and the military.
“It is entrepreneurship that helps break the cycle of poverty,” he said, “and we will take the side of entrepreneurs.”
Any day of the week, Bush would rather give money to businesses than to the poor, and so his proposal of a Gulf Opportunity Zone would shower tax breaks and incentives on companies located in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
As Jesse Jackson has warned, “If New Orleans is rebuilt as an enterprise zone, private investors will wait for the government to clean up the mess and then build luxury condos to replace affordable housing. They'll turn New Orleans into a theme park, with its former residents unable to afford to come back.”
Already, Bush has exempted reconstruction companies from paying workers a prevailing wage. How that will help eliminate poverty is beyond me.
Bush again stressed the work of “the armies of compassion”—the churches and other nonprofits and humanitarians.
For five years, he has consigned almost all social policy to these armies. (And he does have a fondness for military terminology, doesn’t he?)
Again, he asked people to donate to “the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, other good charities, and religious congregations in the region.”
And he slipped in the news that some of the funds that his daddy, George Felix Bush, and his buddy, Bill Oscar Clinton, have been raising will be going not to aid the people who still need food and shelter but to reimburse the churches for any expenses they may already have incurred.
To his credit, he did own up once more to the fact that the federal government didn’t do its job: “I as President am responsible for the problem, and for the solution,” he said.
But he notably did not call for an independent commission like the 9/11 one to investigate what went wrong. He and his cabinet are going to do it themselves, which does not inspire confidence that the truth will come out.
And he put the nation on warning that the next time, the military is going to take over, regardless of the Posse Comitatus Act. “A challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces,” he said.
Watch for Bush to approve classified plans the Pentagon has been cooking up for making extensive use of ground troops to respond to a disaster, as The Washington Post’s Bradley Graham reported on August 8.
As is his wont, Bush pulled out his tattered God card at the end, invoking the “hope beyond all pain and death—a God who welcomes the lost to a house not made with hands.”
He still wants to be preacher in chief.
But I don’t think he’s cut out for that, either.
© 2005 The Progressive