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Archive for September, 2005

Presidential Comparison

The similarity I want people to see is that both Reagan and Clinton were EXCELLENT statesmen.  When they took the podium, they spoke very eloquently and people listened.  They had charisma.
The Way of Things
Bush’s hands-off, appoint-educated-advisors-for-his-cabinet approach works most of the time.  But when push comes to shove, the American people want to see and believe in their president when he stands up and says, “everything is under control.”  Reagan and Clinton had that ability (Reagan is of course the most media-savvy president this nation has ever seen – being an actor actually paid off!  :-).  Bush, for whatever reason, lacks that ability.  It certainly doesn’t make him a bad president (that’s a whole other discussion), but he is weak in one area critical to the success of a president holding office during the information age.
Bitter Taste
You and I might be on opposite ends of the political spectrum on many issues, but I think we can both agree that the last two presidential elections have been a contest of throwing two noodles against the wall and seeing which one sticks.  Whether you want to believe it or not, voting for the presidency is a popularity contest.  The American people by and large vote a president into office based on how ‘cool’ he is.  Unfortunately, they have a separate measuring stick for the actual office of the president.  So, we elected the ‘coolest’ candidate as president, but as a president he’s ‘uncool’ front of the camera and we are horribly disappointed.
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As everyone should be aware, two very serious storms have clobbered the gulf coast in the past month.  The damage, which probably could have been manageable, transformed into a humanitarian disaster with the bursting of levies in New Orleans, submerging the city under feet of water.  America is now facing the prospect of rebuilding an entire region, billions of dollars of property damage, and an untold loss of life.
Pointing the Finger
Some people hold Mayor Nagin responsible for the disaster in New Orleans.  Many people have laid the blame directly at the feet of the president.  I see another example of Americans trying to assuage their guilt by passing the buck on to someone else.
Evacuation notices were given well in advance of Katrina’s landfall.  Many people did not or could not heed the warnings and stayed put.  Socio-economics certainly played a role in who was and who was not able to get out of harms way, but pride and hubris did as well.  The geography of New Orleans specifically dooms it to significant flood danger; the failure of the levies and pumps could not have been forseen, but the results should not have been a surprise.  Responding to a disaster of this magnitude requires the sort of inertia that is nearly impossible to coax out of the federal government in less than 72 hours.  People decrying the federal response, pointing to reporters on the ground in New Oreleans and wondering why the government couldn’t get in there, are comparing apples and oranges.  Mobilizing a TV production crew takes a minute, insignificant fraction of the resources and logistical support compared to transporting thousands of tons of supplies and rescue workers into the zone and evacuating refugees out of the disaster area.  Holding one person to blame for this catastrophe is similar to blaming your doctor because you got cancer.
Shortcomings
However, President Bush in his typical hands-off managerial approach avoided speaking directly on the disaster.  He seemed content to let FEMA director Mike Brown, Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, and others deal with the media and be the face of the federal government for several days following the disaster.   Despite the repeated hardships of Bush’s presidency, and make no mistake his has been extremely challenging, he still does not seem to understand that the President of the United States is not a CEO of a federal corporation, but is a figurehead and a leader to which the people of this country look to for guidance and reassurance during a hardship.
I hope Bush does not have to deal with any further disasters of this magnitude for the remainder of his presidency, both for his health and the health of the country, and that future presidents will instead follow the leadership examples set by Presidents Reagan and Clinton.

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