President Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand.
The President say, “Little fat man isn’t it a shame
What the river has done to this poor cracker’s land?”
I sat in the Hard Times Cafe Friday, eating a chilli dog, listening to Johnny Cash on the juke box and watching live coverage of the Katrina aftermath on one of the cable news channels.
It was right after President Bush finally made it to the Gulf Coast — five long, painful days after Katrina’s visit. I watched on TV as the first National Guard convoys rolled in. Giant trucks, in water up to their windshields, moving slowly and cautiously through the mix of Mississippi, sewage, and toxic chemicals.
They rolled toward the Convention Center where thousands of people had been trapped for days, surrounded by the tide that kept this convoy to a crawl.
I wondered about the timing. But then I’m cynical.
I wondered how thousands of people, trapped by this toxic tide were finally getting help, just minutes after President Bush flew overhead. How people had begged for help, demanded help for five days — then President Bush shows up. Five days after the hurricane, the President declared that the response was slow. Suddenly things get snapping.
It would have been great political theatre — if so many Americans weren’t tired of the show.
History Fails to Repeat Itself
President Bush will probably always be remembered as the President with the bullhorn (right) — standing in the rubble of 9/11, shakily speaking to firefighters at “Ground Zero” and finding his voice as he declared “I hear you” and promising “the whole world will hear you.”
That, too, was political theatre — though it was improvisation. It was unexpected, it just happened. And the thing about improv — you can tell when it’s rehearsed. That’s what the Gulf coast photo ops looked like.
And for the President’s performance, the week was a theatre of the absurd.
Instead of firemen, the President’s supporting cast on the Gulf Coast was the Coast Guard. Helicopters that had been rescuing stranded people were grounded, crews who’d been saving lives were lined up at parade rest to provide a backdrop for politicians. Lifesaving equipment and manpower reduced to mere props for politicians and the TV cameras — while Americans waited for help.
Showtime for the President
That was Monday.
By Tuesday, Americans were ready for the response. We’re quick like that. Some call it “a society of instant gratification.” Others call it “the American way.”
Help never came.
Americans were saying on Tuesday what it took President Bush until Friday to say — that the response was too slow.
That’s three days.
Oddly, the same amount of time it takes to run a really accurate benchmark poll. Something the White House likely did to guage Americans’ opinion of how the Katrina aftermath was handled. It wasn’t like they were doing anything else.
The Poll-Driven President
We don’t know what the White House polls showed — probably pretty close to what the what the public ones did.
On Thursday morning, Taegan Goddard posted results of public polling at PoliticalWire.com:
A new Survey USA tracking poll finds that 59% of Americans say the federal government “is not doing enough to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina,” up from 50% just 24 hours ago. Other findings:
- 75% of Americans today say that local officials are unprepared to meet the challenge that is before them. This is up 14 points, from 61%, in the past 24 hours.
- 34% of Americans today say the government’s response to the hurricane has been surprisingly disorganized, up 14 points in 24 hours.
- 31% of Americans today say the city of New Orleans should not be rebuilt, up 7 points in the past 24 hours.
I’ve followed lots of polls and been in on a lot of photo ops — both as a reporter and a political manager. I lost count of how many sometime in the Reagan administration.
From my experience — and from this data — handlers could craft a photo op where the President appears to come to the rescue, like the calvary arriving at the nick of time, whipping the slow response into shape.
In this case it was like the calvary arriving four days after the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Custer could have predicted the next poll numbers.
On Friday evening, Mr Goddard had an update showing the politicians were in even bigger trouble:
The latest Survey USA tracking poll shows that 68% of Americans now think the government isn’t doing enough to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. This is up dramatically from yesterday’s tracking poll.In addition, the majority (53%) do not approve of President Bush’s response to the tradegy; only 40% approve.
The Gulf Coast photo ops were not kind to President Bush. This was not the man with the bullhorn saying, “I hear you” and promising the “whole world will hear you.”
Here he was merely echoing what Americans had been saying for four days — the response was too slow. President Bush’s response was too slow. And he didn’t hear us this time. He didn’t hear us for four days.[Crossposted at Watching Washington] Powered by Sidelines