How will John McCain and Barack Obama perform in the face of Gustav? Their reaction to this crisis may well determine the course of this campaign—perhaps even the outcome of the election. Right now McCain holds the initiative. The national spotlight is directed upon him, and he enjoys a structural advantage in terms of access to the business end of the government relief effort. But hurricanes and presidential campaigns oftentimes defy human agency or prognostication. Will this force of nature prove advantageous to either candidate? Time will tell.

Perhaps even more significant, Gustav potentially offers George Bush an opportunity to come in from the cold after his three-year political storm.

By the way, it is worth noting that Democrats are not only shocked and horrified that a major American political party would nominate a relative novice to a national ticket, now it turns out that they are also revolted at the thought of partisans taking political advantage of a natural disaster (such as a Gulf Coast hurricane).


ITEM ONE: Some historical context.

Hurricanes have played major roles in presidential elections. Before there was a FEMA, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, a 1928 presidential candidate, proved to be a one-man federal emergency management administrator when he personally took control of relief efforts along the lower Mississippi following the catastrophic Flood of 1927. Hoover's actions pioneered the concept of federal relief for natural disasters on that scale and cemented his reputation as a great organizational genius at the disposal of humanity.

More recently, Hurricane Andrew (1992) not only wreaked havoc on Florida (the worst American natural disaster up until that time), but the sluggishness of George H.W. (41) Bush's FEMA, in the wake of the devastating storm, also inflicted great damage on the Bush re-election effort that fall.

Ironically, and almost forgotten, a series of Florida hurricanes in 2004 allowed George Bush (43) and his FEMA (headed by Michael Brown) an opportunity to perform with high proficiency and rally to the aid of buffeted Floridians. If you think hard enough, you may remember the images of a fatigued but smiling George Bush dressed in dungarees slinging hash for displaced neighbors. Not unconnected, President Bush took the perennial toss-up Sunshine State with ease that November.

ACT TWO: 2005

Of course, when we think of George Bush, Michael Brown, and a hurricane, we think of KATRINA, the devastating super storm that pummeled New Orleans and the Mississippi coast and beyond. Katrina proved a disastrously debilitating public relations nightmare for the Bush Administration. Undoubtedly, the President and his team misjudged and mishandled the natural disaster. In fairness, however, the Category Four deluge overwhelmed the best laid schemes of mice and men. While it is tough for us to admit our limitations as all-powerful humans, in truth, the natural force of Katrina simply over-matched even the power of the President of the United States.

Notwithstanding, the media and the opposition party piled on the President, de-emphasizing the unprepared Democratic governor of Louisiana and the not-ready-for-prime-time local leadership in New Orleans--also ignoring, for the most part, the more successful response in Mississippi spearheaded by a Republican governor.

Regardless of the complicated web of events and the multiple actors and motives, Katrina became the symbol of a failed presidency. Katrina exposed Bush “cronyism” and incompetence, GOP corruption and a systemic lack of compassion, and, perhaps most importantly, the international embarrassment of Katrina crystallized public frustration regarding our dreadfully dispiriting position in IRAQ. Although the judgment had been percolating for some time, suddenly, the Bush fortunes dropped precipitously (and gas prices rose just as abruptly)--and stayed there. Over the last three years, George Bush has suffered the lowest sustained approval ratings in the history of the American presidency.


How will this storm be different?

I do not know the name of the current director of FEMA, but, whoever he is, his boss, Michael Chertoff, chief of Homeland Security, is onsite in Baton Rouge directing operations for the feds. The old governor of Louisiana is gone. The new governor is everywhere, appearing ultra-competent, breathtakingly articulate, and exceedingly telegenic. He is on every newscast and flawlessly in command of the situation, comfortably discussing any possible contingency. The old mayor of New Orleans is a new man, reborn and on top of an almost comprehensive evacuation of the Big Easy.

Where is George? He is on his way to Texas (and assuredly South Louisiana as soon as he gets the go-ahead to go in). He is conspicuously monitoring the situation, eschewing all invitations to birthday soirees, GOP conventions, and any celebrations that might include a Mexican hat dance. All systems go.

Added to the additional preparation and experience at every level, Gustav is almost certain to be less powerful, less lethal, and, as a result, much less catastrophic than the tragedy of three years ago. Ironically, for many casual observers (even as the mainstream media takes every opportunity to roll the tape of the Katrina abomination), this less calamitous episode will translate into better storm management on the part of the government.

EPILOGUE: An Opportunity to Forgive George Bush?

Much has been made of the fact that Gustav has blown George Bush and Dick Cheney off the GOP stage in St. Paul today. That helps politically--without a doubt. The Democrats have placed most of their eggs in the "McSame" basket. It was always a strained and disingenuous line of attack, but the lack of a Bush-Cheney primetime appearance at the McCain nominating convention helps to make the connection even more attenuated.

Perhaps even more significant, however, is that the government performance in the face of Gustav may offer the President a modicum of redemption. Could the American people, after three years of sustained anger directed at the White House, take this opportunity to forgive and re-assess a bit? Just as the Katrina failure seemed to typify the larger fiasco playing out in this administration that included Iraq of 2005, the potential triumph over Mother Nature, in light of the much more successful Iraq of 2008, might finally stanch the President's long, slow, three-year bleed.

The Lagniappe:
In a tight race for president, even a slight upward re-evaluation of the Bush years would help John McCain tremendously.
Friday morning Tocqueville pointed us to the most recent Peggy Noonan column, which asserted "confusion . . . followed by frustration . . . has turned into resentment" for President Bush, and not just among Beltway sharpies, but among the plain folks in the heart of Texas as well.

Today (Saturday) the Okie Gardener directed us to Scott Johnson of Powerline and his excellent retort: "Season of the Witch."

In light of this conversation, I am exercising my right to revise and extend my original comments from Friday on this topic:

Dateline: Waco, Texas

I stand by my love for Peggy Noonan. Many years ago the Gardener called her a national treasure. I agree wholeheartedly.

And I like the first two sections of her column: 1) frustrating procedures at the airports; and 2) Obama's problems with Middle America,

but the assertion in re Texans and Bush is balderdash.

Noonan: the people of Lubbock, Texas, "the heart of Texas conservatism...dislike President Bush. He has lost them. I was there and saw it."

Translation: "Peggy Noonan dislikes George Bush. He has lost her."

Ms. Noonan (God bless her) has been writing this same essay for two years now.

Here is what I see on the ground in the Waco, Texas (the true HOT):

Texans who are predisposed to like Bush and Republicans continue to admire Bush (albeit more discreetly, perhaps, than they once did).

Texans who are predisposed to hate Bush and all Republicans are much more empowered by the polls and the media to trash Bush in a louder more public way.

Pure Speculation: if Texans had another opportunity to vote for Bush in 2008 for president against Hillary, Obama, Joe Biden, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Al Gore, or even Bill Clinton, George Bush would garner 60-plus percent of the vote once again.

As for what Ms. Noonan (God bless her) purportedly sees, sometimes "a woman sees what she wants to see and disregards the rest."

You can't just fly in someplace, stay the night, give a speech, and purport to tell me what the folks of that particular hamlet "really think."

Also, as evidence buttressing her point, Noonan relates that her audiences don't challenge her on her Bush-bashing. I have the same experience when I say negative things about the President: a sheepish silence. However, if you look out and say, "but, you know, I still like the guy," you will see a lot (A LOT) of relieved faces and knowing smiles from people who want to tell you that they still like him too.

Is George W. Bush a classic conservative? No. Has he made a ten-gallon hat full of bonehead errors? Yes. Having said that, who was the conservative option in 2000? It is a stumper. Answer: the same candidate who was the conservative option in 2008. Nobody. Do any of us seriously believe that we are not infinitely better off with our current president than with the actual alternatives to George Bush in 2000 and 2004: Al Gore and John Kerry?

You want a real conservative? Go get one elected (you will need to find one first). But until then, show some backbone and be part of the solution. Everybody loves a winner. But sometimes you need to back a flawed but well-intentioned man doing his level best in a damned-near impossible situation--even if it is unpopular.
Two thoughts I have not seen in other places (probably for good reason):

1. President Bush scored big on Iraq in his State of the Union Speech. Saving his strong suit for last, Bush hammered the faint of heart and chorus of doomsayers, coming back time and again to the contrast between the despair of early 2007 and myriad hopeful signs of 2008.

Inarguably, for good or for ill, George Bush owns the "surge" in Iraq. Last night he was taking it out for a spin, driving slow down the main drag, and whistling at the girls in the Mustang convertible. For the most part, the Democrats had to sit there and take it. All in all, last night seemed a pretty good night for the President.

One more thing: I was also cheered by his leisurely exit from the chamber, shaking hands and signing autographs in his trademark good-natured manner. He is at his best yucking it up with friends and adversaries alike.

2. Bush has been incredibly responsive and adept at massaging the international economic uncertainty that threatens to throw the world into recession.

Bush moved quickly, forcefully, and confidently after the dramatic downturns in world markets last Monday. With futures trading at 500 points below the opening on Tuesday, Bush followed Ben Bernanke’s announcement of an unprecedented three-quarter point cut in the federal funds rate with an equally rare productive meeting with Congressional leadership in which he secured a stimulus package for the sputtering economy.

In truth, Presidents have little control over the economy in the short run--save some psychological leger demain--but Bush has been making the most of his bully pulpit and good political horse sense.

For the record, the death of Heath Ledger may have done as much to stave off the great market crash of 2008 as George Bush or Ben Bernanke. That is, the banner headlines reading, "HEATH LEDGER IS DEAD," and stories extolling the many virtues of the twenty-eight year-old Barrymore were much better for economic sanity than the alternative headline of "MARKETS CRASHING: RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!"

Anyhow, George Bush may have gotten the break he needed, which allowed him to finesse the rest. Of course, the great crash of 2008 may be mere hours away. Who knows? The truth is the economy probably deserves a downturn. Bush inherited a slumping economy, made worse by 9-11, and not helped by a war that turned out much more expensive than anyone imagined. Having said that, the President does not get nearly enough credit for babying this economy through some tough times, and presiding over a period of significant growth.

An Aside: if you did not know better, you would think this dumb SOB from Texas was a Harvard MBA or something.

Bottom Line: understanding well that the politics of this situation are deadly and rigged against him, for the good of his historical reputation and the electoral fortunes of his party, he is desperately trying to help the troubled economy limp off the 2008 calendar and crash on someone else's watch.

Let's hope he can pull it off.
Tuesday in the Washington Post :

Bush Meets Al Gore: Effect On Permafrost Unknown

"It must be the season. President Bush tried yesterday to make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And he tried to make peace with Al Gore.

"For the first time since Bush moved into the house Gore coveted, the two adversaries from the tumultuous 2000 presidential election sat down to talk."

"The official purpose of the historic summit was not the Middle East peace conference Bush is also hosting this week but the normally more prosaic photo op the White House typically schedules each year with the latest American winners of the Nobel Prize."

This particular Post story by Peter Baker (in full here) represents a plethora of semi-serious reporting this week noting the Bush-Gore meeting in the Oval Office.

How would the President respond to Al Gore? Would this be an uncomfortable moment? Would the President look nervous? Or make a scene?

No. In fact, the president went the extra mile.

Baker: "[he] decided to go a step beyond duty by meeting with Gore in the Oval Office for 40 minutes before the formal picture-taking. [T]he two reportedly talked about global warming...."

Does this tell us anything about President Bush?

Let Al Gore tell it:

"He was very gracious in setting up the meeting and it was a very good and substantive conversation."

The former-veep is not that spot-on correct very often--but he is exactly right in this particular characterization of events.

Is this a surprise (Bush's behavior, I mean)?

Hardly. We hear constantly that the President is dense, bull-headed, and Manichean in outlook. Gore himself often calls the Bushies "Mayberry Machiavellians," and the list goes on--but there are never any stories about Bush as petulant. No one ever asserts that he is ever anything less than gracious in his personal affairs--even when he has a right to take some revenge.

Peter Baker puts it mildly: "Gore has evolved into one of the [P]resident's toughest critics, condemning the war in Iraq, warrantless surveillance, harsh interrogations and other policies of an administration his team believes was illegitimately installed by the Supreme Court."

Baker should have thrown in a few choice adjectives to better describe the level and volume of Gore's withering criticism--but you get the point.

How has the President responded to the myriad Gore calumnies? He has not. It would be beneath the office. No one can contest his record for executing the duties of his office with great respect and dignity. This meeting is just another example of that pattern of behavior.
Category: Bush Hagiography
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I have had C-SPAN on TV 24-7 (literally) for the past few days.

This morning, during the moment of silence at the White House, my five-year old (born five months after 9-11 and carrying the middle name Walker) sauntered through my bedroom and paused in front of the television screen. Momentarily interested in the long angle of the Bushes and Cheneys striding out onto the South Lawn, my son asked: "who is that man who looks like John Wayne without his cowboy suit?"

You guessed it; my son had spotted the President.

It reminded me of one of my favorite Bush lines (from his acceptance speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention):

"Some people say I swagger. In Texas, we just call that walking."

I know plenty of folks who don't like Texans. And, I know plenty of Texans who hate George Bush so much that they deny his "Texasness." In truth, regardless of where Bush was born or educated, I know no one who is more thoroughly Texan than our 43rd president.

Even more to the point, he is thoroughly cowboy. Perhaps he would be clueless on a horse--but he has internalized the code of the West: he is slow talking, straight shooting, loyal, sometimes stoic, sometimes tender, not easily intimidated, slow to anger, but a powerful force when finally fully riled.

And them that don't know him won't like him
And them that do sometimes won't know how to take him
He ain't wrong he's just different
but his pride won't let him do things to make you think he's right

Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys
Don't let 'em [be president] and drive them old trucks
Make 'em be doctors and lawyers and such

In truth, many of the unkind observations regarding George Bush are absolutely correct. He is often a painfully poor public speaker. He is stubborn. He is loath to admit error. He does have a "high noon" worldview. His loyalty to friends is often misplaced and muscular to a fault.

Specifically, the President "misunderestimated" the scale of the task in Iraq, which led him to stake the vital interests and future of the United States on an extremely difficult long-term mission. As a result, his Iraq policy has placed high stress on the military, the treasury, and American hegemony.

Having said that, much of the ugliness concerning him is egregiously exaggerated and completely unfair. For me, 9-11 is a day that summons the images of the President at his most gallant, standing up to lead a fearful nation with vigor and vision after an attack that might have debilitated a less confident and less grounded man.

No man is entirely good. No man is entirely bad. But, all things considered, I continue to support this president and continue to believe we have been well-served by his decisive leadership. Faced with a menu of unappealing options fraught with peril in the post 9-11 world, the President pursued the best hard choice to the best of his ability (review here). Perhaps over time, history will vindicate him--or perhaps not. Regardless, if we prevail ultimately in Iraq, inarguably, it will be principally a testament to this President's true grit.
Category: Bush Hagiography
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Another installment in my continuing attempt to explain my sympathy and admiration for the President:

In my American history class, I sometimes ask my students to relate their favorite literary character. The most worrisome answer (and one that is increasingly more common): "I don't have one."

Having said that, the exercise generally provides one of my most enjoyable class days. There are some expected favorites: Harry Potter is very popular. When the Tolkien novels were current movies, I got a lot of Bilbo Bagginses. But there are also some classic figures that come up very often: the Count of Monte Cristo, Elizabeth Bennet, Holden Caulfield, and Gus McCrae to name a few.

Oftentimes it turns out that a favorite literary character is a seemingly ordinary person with whom we can identify--but who falls into a desperate situation that none of us would want to be in. The hero faces the crisis with extraordinary courage, exhibiting unexpected traits we hope that we might call forth in similarly dire straits.

This is essentially the story of George Bush. He is the archetypal everyman who finds himself in a horrific mess (the presidency in the post-9/11 era). He reacts with admirable courage and summons strength from the depths of his soul. To borrow a phrase from a great historian long deceased: he surpasses himself.

Of course, we don't know how the story ends. Right now we are in the third act and things are caving in on our hero. Can he turn the tide of misfortune and snatch victory from the forces of evil? Or will he prove the ultimate tragic figure--defeated and humiliated in the end by his outsized but flawed personality?

Only time will tell--but I cannot put this book down.
A very quick thought:

Perhaps the thing I love most about George Bush is his peace.

Politicians and campaign managers have always admired (or coveted) his ability to be "comfortable in his own skin."

The familiar questions that have generally accompanied that cliché:

Who would you rather have a beer with? Bush, Gore, or Kerry?

Who seems more genuine? Who connects better with the heartland? Who has more core convictions? Who actually means what he says? Who is less likely to set policy based on transient public opinion polling?

Bush always wins those questions.

Granted, those are not the end-all, be-alls to attaining greatness (or perhaps even competence) as President of the United States.

However, I admire our President for his placidity in the midst of the sound of the fury of low approval ratings, a hostile Congress, and a media deliriously in pursuit of a weakened Chief Executive.

Amazingly, President Bush has not made any excuses. Can you imagine if you or I (or Bill Clinton) were in this mess? Can you imagine the tortured explanations and protestations we would have heard by now? Think about the elaborate public demonstrations of intrinsic goodness that we would have been subject to by this point to convince us the man in the Oval Office really was a good-hearted fellow.

Thankfully, President Bush has spared us all that dramatic emotional unburdening. He just goes on. He continues to show up, doing his job, smiling at us, encouraging us and not once complaining about the raw deal he is getting.

I wrote this last year on the President's birthday. Back then his approval ratings were in the mid-30s. As he said recently, those were the good old days. My sense is that things won't always be this bad for Bush. We'll see. No matter, for all his faults, I continue to like the President and believe that he is a good man.

From this time last year:

My heart goes out to George W. Bush. I understand his “compassionate conservatism” in a way that defies reason or logic. That is, I share the President’s susceptibility to a lump in the throat.

Many of his critics see him as insincere (among other things), but I have no doubt that George Bush’s most powerful emotion is empathy. The President often gets into trouble with conservatives when he identifies too emotionally with people. “No Child Left Behind” was the product of his earnest belief that every child is important and deserves better. The “soft bigotry of low standards” was for him incredibly real.

One presidential psycho-analyst, published on the subject, avers that George Bush grew up fearing that he was the child being left behind. Maybe, this is the key to Bush the man.

For all of us who look at the world and see it as a scary, cruel place and feel damn lucky to have a good job and a loving, wonderful family, the “lump” comes rather easily. If you spent a great deal of your life worrying about screwing things up (I warned you this would be personal), and then one day the clouds open and you realize that you have been greatly blessed beyond anything you deserved, the “lump” is always in there, lurking just below the surface.

You can scoff at George Bush. Ann Richards famously said of his father: “George Bush was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.” You can easily apply that kind of mean-spirited analysis to Bush the son. But it misses the point. In America, it is rather easy to get “picked-off” third base, and that is exactly what almost happened to George W. But he survived. For all the “swagger” and confidence, there is also the humility that comes from barely dodging a perilous bullet.

George Bush has the ability to look into the eyes of an immigrant family attempting to gain access to an American life and be moved. Or look at two young people on their wedding day and feel misty, knowing the joy of finding a soul mate but also the daunting task that awaits them. There is a depth of understanding in the President that comes only from a certain amount of personal pain and fear and inner struggle.

In many ways, Bush is the most human of the modern presidents. And on this week of his sixtieth [sixty-first] birthday, I offer a very personal thanks for his compassion and his attention to duty.

In closing, please consider my absolute favorite Bush line, which is also an excellent set of principles for Christian leadership (from his 2000 Acceptance Speech in Philadelphia):

I believe in tolerance, not in spite of my faith, but because of it.

I believe in a God who calls us, not to judge our neighbors, but to love them.

I believe in grace, because I have seen it ... In peace, because I have felt it ... In forgiveness, because I have needed it.

I believe true leadership is a process of addition, not an act of division. I will not attack a part of this country, because I want to lead the whole of it.

Other nice things I have said about the President over time:

"The Pain of the Presidency" here.

"Don't Feel Like the Lone Ranger" here.

"Pray for George Bush" here.

"Ranking Bush" here.
Category: Bush Hagiography
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Being President of the United States has always been a lonely job, but it becomes increasingly more difficult and frustrating with the passage of time.

I have a whole list of serious complaints against our president. On the other hand, I would not want his job. I continue to believe that George Bush has been faced with a series of horrific problems to which there are no clear or painless solutions.

No matter, he moves forward step by step. He shows up at his job every day. He continues to love and respect his family, his nation and the office he occupies. He remains optimistic about the nature, history and the future of the United States of America. No matter how egregious the verbal assaults against his character, intelligence and motives, he never breaks faith with the system of self government and civil liberties that ensures that his persecutors will be heard.

I am not sure that we can ask for anything more from a Man.

I am convinced that one day history will credit him for his patience and faithfulness. For now, as his public approval rating hovers in the 30s, I am reminded of the timeless Rudyard Kipling poem:


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

--Rudyard Kipling

What can we do? Pray for George Bush and the United States of America.

Category: Bush Hagiography
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
In one of the opening scenes of the Martin Scorcese movie, Good Fellas, a young Henry Hill must suffer the violent wrath of his father. As his hulking parent stands over him "pounding away," the action freezes, and we hear Henry's voice over the still frame:

My father was always pissed off...and, every once in a while, I had to take a beating. But by then, I didn't care. No matter how many beatings I took, I wouldn't listen to what he said. I don't think I even heard him. The way I saw it, everybody has to take a beating some time.

Perhaps better than any of his forty-one predecessors, George Bush understood the vagaries of the Oval Office. Reportedly, the stress of the task drove Richard Nixon and Herbert Hoover to wander the hallways of the White House talking to portraits of dead presidents. Lyndon Johnson and Abraham Lincoln were famous insomniacs. All presidents seem to age at an alarming rate.

George Bush gets up every day and does his job. It is open season on the president all the time. Some moments are worse than others. This is one of those times in which very little seems to be going right. This analysis piece from Gloria Borger represents the tenor of the media coverage of the Bush administration.

Borger correctly observes: "The problem for this White House now is that Iraq is the overlay for everything."

She is also right to assert that most of the myriad problems for the Bush administration are problems of their own making. Of course, this applies a general truism of life specifically to this presidency, which creates a somewhat distorted impression through the omission of historical context and an acknowledgment of basic human nature.

Having said all that, the key for the President has always been victory in Iraq. Perceived failure in Iraq hamstrings the President in everything he does. As I have written before, the President must know that the clock is running out and it is now or never. He must make progress now. With the public breathing down his neck and Congress looking for every opportunity to embarrass and seek political advantage, the President must operate in the mistake-free zone.

Sometimes people react to stress in positive ways. Sometimes they crater. This President is someone with a track record of responding to adversity with internal toughness. Let's hope he has enough left to push back. Like Henry Hill, I am convinced that the President no longer feels the slings and arrows of outrageous opposition intent on hammering him at every turn.

The way he sees it, every President has to take a beating sometime.

One potentially positive note: there is a lag time in Washington. The President is currently dealing with the consequences of previous poor decisions. It is possible, and one can hope, that even now he is making moves that will pay off and relieve the pressure in the days to come.