Part 3 of my Four Fails series.
Two defining disasters define the Bush Administration, one of his own making and one from Mother Nature. He didn't handle either well. Unfortunately for the citizens of New Orleans, Katrina came ashore during Dubya's annual month long break where he clears brush and torments the press corps. It was during a similar sojourn four years earlier that Dubya had been so vaguely warned that bin Laden was determined to strike within the U.S., possibly using airplanes. So it was with equal dismissiveness that he shrugged off the warning that a direct hit on New Orleans by a Katrina-class hurricane cold destroy the city. When confronted with such ambiguous warnings, Bush tends to go back to the yard chores.
Besides, he had left FEMA in the capable hands of Michael Brown, a former Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association. Show jumping, disaster response, all the same. His complete ineptness at the job led to his removal from the chain of command and his eventual resignation. Meanwhile, the unfolding chaos forced Bush into action, but not before he flew to California for a frivolous photo-op. He flew over the devastation and looked out the window in the second most regrettable publicty stunt of his career.
More than a disaster that resulted in nearly 2,000 deaths and tens of billions of dollars, Katrina serves as a metaphor for the entire Dubya management style. Terminal inattentiveness and a complete disregard for competence in favor of loyalty amongst his underlings combine to form a recipe for mediocrity and worse. Michael Brown was just emblematic of the rampant cronyism that characterized Bush's entire style of leadership.
In the Justice Department in particular, loyalty and ideological correctness took precedence over qualifications. The hiring of lawyers was handed over to twenty-something grads of a lightly accredited religiously affiliated law school. At the center of every legal controversy was Alberto "Torqueberto" Gonzales, a lackey that Dubya had dragged along from Texas. In perhaps the most telling example of Bush's hiring practices, he tried to send his personal counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Her lack of qualifications became the gist of late-night comedians for weeks. When her nomination crash and burned, it was briefly rumored that Bush wanted to nominate Gonzales but strongly worded back channel warnings staved off that fiasco. Alberto was too incompetent to even pass muster with a GOP controlled Senate.
One of the few "successes" of the Bush Administration's was passage of the No Child Left Behind Act. This all-encompassing encroachment of the federal government into a typical state and local prerogative was based on the gains made by Bush's first Secretary of Education Rod Paige. Paige had been the superintendent of Houston's schools before Dubya dragged him along with his coterie of cronies from the Lone Star State. It was only after the law had been passed that anyone bothered to investigate the statistics only to find that all the successes had been completely fabricated and the Houston miracle was a total fraud.
Do you see a pattern yet? Bush pays lip service to some noble ideal, puts a bunch of incompetent yes-men in charge, and then promptly loses interest in the whole endeavour. Iraq and Katrina were only the most flagrant examples of how Bush's management style has failed the American people again and again. His much vaunted "compassionate conservatism" proved to be all a smoke screen to fill the henhouse with foxes. More often than not, the chicken coop would be privatized and the farm sold to Kellogg Brown and Root.
The Bush modus operandi was to take a topic and profess genuine concern for it while eviscerating the underlying infrastructure. Logging roads are built in the name of forest conservation. Grand plans for missions to Mars are announced while basic space science is eliminated because it could prove global warming to be real. Funds for reading programs are funneled to unproven but politically connected companies. Social Security nearly gets privatized on the eve of the financial collapse.
Katrina was just the tip of the iceberg. The spreading of incompetence and abrogation of governmental responsibility was endemic and deliberate. George W. Bush was a man determined to remake government in his own image: incompetent, disinterested and casually oblivious to the suffering caused by his indifference. Fortunately, it is a burden about to be lifted from him. Perhaps from now on we should only elect presidents that seem to want the job. Perhaps fewer people will be forced to suffer when he is forced to do his job. In the meantime, that is little consolation to the displaced of New Orleans.