The Gulf Between Rhetoric and Reality

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, September 2, 2005; 1:51 PM

On his tour of the devastated Gulf Coast today, President Bush runs smack into another kind of gulf -- one between what his administration says it is doing and what the American public is watching on television.

Will he show true compassion, comprehension and leadership today by wading -- literally and figuratively -- among those who are still suffering? Or will it be a series of hermetically sealed photo ops?

Bush is under intense pressure to refute the growing criticism that his reaction to the disaster has been lackadaisical and ineffective. What's not clear is whether that means his aides will abandon their typically meticulous approach to stage-managing every presidential appearance -- or whether, in fact, they will embrace it more than ever.

Stay tuned.

So Far Today

In his first public appearance today, on the White House lawn , Bush acknowledged for the first time: "The results are not acceptable."

He then headed off to Mobile, Ala., his first stop.

"I'm looking forward to my trip down there, and looking forward to thanking those on the ground, and looking forward to assure people that we'll get on top of this situation and we're going to help people that need help," he said in Washington.

But somewhere along the way Bush apparently decided to sound a little more glum about his outing.

"I'm not looking forward to this trip," he said in Mobile.

Bush in a Pinch

Matthew Cooper writes in Time: "September 11, 2001 is remembered as Bush's finest hour but of course the day was anything but. He sat frozen in a Florida school after being informed of the attack, flew around the country, at first sending Karen Hughes to reassure a worried nation before he made a statement from an Air Force base while a macho Donald Rumsfeld helped carry stretchers out of a burning Pentagon. By the time Bush got back to the Oval Office that night to address the nation, his response had paled compared to that of Rudolph Giuliani. . . .

"This time, Bush has been just as flatfooted. He couldn't seem to break off his schedule in San Diego, where he was commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory over Japan, while New Orleans filled like a bathtub. His remarks to the country from the Rose Garden yesterday about the Katrina disaster seemed oddly terse; his litany of aid meaningless without context. . . . And his interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News seemed weirdly out of touch. His smirk came back . . . [he] said things that seemed patently out of touch, including the now-infamous remark that no one could have foreseen the levee breaking. His inability to see any moral distinction between those who steal water and those who loot TV sets seemed odd. . . .

"The Battle of New Orleans may yet be a cataclysmic event that scuttles Bush's political agenda. . . . But Bush's career is all about people underestimating him and it would be a mistake to do so this time."

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