Fiddles While the Middle East Burns
August 25, 2001
There is one image seared into my mind concerning the previous
Bush in the White House.
I came home from work in the afternoon in April 1992 (I was
a bartender going to college), turned on the TV, and saw America
burning. In south central Los Angeles, people were looting
and torching their neighbors' businesses. Pulling strangers
from their vehicles, and then beating them with bricks. There
were black mobs attacking Korean stores. And Koreans stood
on rooftops with rifles. The Vietnamese were mistaken for
Koreans by the mob. And Salvadoran kids went downtown shouting
revolutionary slogans in Spanish, with guns in their waving
Everyone remember what had set it off? The police who beat
Rodney King, a scumbag criminal and repeat offender, were
found innocent. It was now okay to be beaten unconscious by
the police, even when it was clear you had surrendered. Even
with a videotape showing abuse. Rodney was no angel, but it
struck a nerve. If you have not been a victim of racial profiling,
it would be hard to understand.
As I absorbed it all, I flipped through the channels. Someone
was going to take charge. That somebody was probably the President.
He was, I was sure, asking for calm. Sending in police reinforcements.
The National Guard. Something!
I turned to CNN, and there he was all right... playing golf.
It was several hours into the riots, people were dying, LA
was in flames... and George Bush was working on his slice.
He knew about it, and was in contact with people, he said
as he turned his back to tee off.
Flash forward nine years to another George Bush. There is
the same uncaring disregard, as he is asked what he is doing
to help avoid an all-out war in Israel and Palestine. As he
conducts foreign policy from a golf cart.
Folks, it's tough to find good time to go on vacation, or
catch a game of golf. But you and I are not the leader of
the free world. I hope that Bush understood this before he
ran for office. Understood that the office is time consuming,
and that you are the servant of the job. That the world does
not work on your schedule. It's the other way around.
Ask yourselves this: If you were in Bush's place, would you
have spent 42% of your first six months on the job on vacation?
Bush II is missing. Disengaged. Like his official military
record indicates, (it shows no duty after 1972 - he was supposed
to be reserve until 1974, but his superior officers in both
Alabama and Texas say they never saw him after May of 1972),
Bush seems to feel he can step out of whatever role ties him
down. As if the White House, and Air Force One are a perk
of his own status, not part of the most important job in the
He is dead wrong on this, and the bodies are piling up in
the Middle East. Judith Kipper, a Middle East specialist with
the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Bush's
same old non-speech won't have an effect. "It's getting to
be a broken record," she said. "Just repeating it louder isn't
going to make it work. We're going to have to use tough love."
Kipper said the Bush administration has to make specific demands
on the Israelis and Palestinians, threatening them with the
cessation of high-level contacts and cutting aid and weapons.
"It has to be more than rhetoric," Kipper said. "They need
to be afraid of somebody and right now they're not afraid
of us at all." Even the right wing columnist Tony Blankely
has observed that Bush, "Is making an ill-considered and unnecessary
mistake by seeming to not lift a finger to stop a war."
President Clinton worked hard on the Middle East. He bullied,
he cajoled, and argued. From the basement-level Situation
Room, he routinely spoke with advisers at the Pentagon or
State Department via a video linkup. Never did Clinton do
it on vacation. "Clinton was in the office a lot, so
he generally spoke to his staff there. I don't remember him
ever taking off thirty straight days," former press secretary
Joe Lockhart said last Tuesday.
So I say this; Mr. Bush, however imperfectly you got there,
you now have the job. It may require more than 40-hour weeks.
You acted like you deserved it during the campaign, and you
said you would work to gain our respect in your inaugural
speech. But you can't do that and be on vacation all the time.
You would not have tolerated it with your employees, and now
YOU are an employee of the American people. As the guy who
pays your salary, I say, "Get your tail back to the office,
and at least act as if you want to be there."