Democratic Underground

Yearning for a Leader
September 22, 2001
by Robert C.

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The searing and horrific images of the past 9 days have left me numb and sickened, and adding immeasurably to my grief has been the pathetic performance of our "accidental president". I was not among those who criticized him for not immediately returning to DC. I had no problem with keeping the POTUS (even a BOGUS one) out of DC until the situation clarified - after the Pentagon hit it was obvious that DC was a target - also there was the possibility of other attacks by a different delivery system, or opportunistic attacks taking advantage of the confusion.

It wasn't his absence that bothered me, what bothered me was the total disconnect to reality that he displayed when he did venture before the cameras. Why is it whenever he speaks, no matter how grave the words coming out of mouth are, he always seems to be smirking? Why is it that his rhetoric and his body language are always so badly out of tune?

After all this time I guess I should know better than to expect anything but awkwardly presented platitudes from Dubya, short trite speeches are his trademark. But I must say I had no way of anticipating how chilling and disconcerting his lackluster leadership skills would be in a real world shattering crisis. The country yearned for a leader - and all we got was someone who can't even READ an inconsequential 4 minute speech without smirking? There was a real need for leadership from the top, and all we got are canned speeches and photo-ops? Do you remember Clinton after the OK bombing ? Do you remember Reagan after the Challenger disaster? (The only thing that he ever did that I admired.) That is called rising to the occasion.

Fortunately, extraordinary circumstances have a way of bringing out the best in some public figures, and a hero appropriate to the task at hand has certainly emerged. The Mayor of NYC, Rudy Giuliani, found the "right stuff" deep in his heart and in his soul, to rise to this unimaginably ghastly occasion. With grace, grit, courage, humility, intelligence, and compassion, Giuliani has managed to reassure a bleeding city, a stunned country, and an astonished world that in spite of the horror and the carnage, the city, the country, and the world will move on and survive.

No small feat for such a flawed individual, but I guess that a life shaped by conflict, adversity, triumph and tragedy, creates a wellspring that one can gather strength from in a crisis. It is Dubya's lack of such a personal reservoir - his life has been one string of triumphs, none that he has ever had to work for - that accounts for his stunning inability to deal with events more challenging than reading "The Brave Little Caterpillar" to a captive audience of pre-schoolers. I guess that in the end, character does matter.

In light of the monstrous attack on our country, I was willing to cut Dubya some slack. I was willing to forgive what I already knew would be his sub-par rhetorical skills, and his inadequate leadership abilities, but I cannot forgive the political spin on his performance. I don't like being lied to. I don't accept it from my children, and although I understand their (or anyone's) very human impulse to be seen by others as behaving in an exemplary manner in all situations, I labor to teach my children that admitting to errors in judgment, or actions, does not diminish them, and that the mistake or error is far more easily forgiven than the attempt to cover it up with lies. In this period of national crisis, I expect no less from my government than I expect from my children. Why did they have to concoct this story about "credible evidence that Air Force One was next"? I didn't believe it for a nanosecond!

Why are they so afraid to say that they were concerned for safety, why are they so afraid to admit that the situation was fluid and confusing, why are they so damned reluctant to appear human? I could have bought any one of these, or any number of other common sense explanations. The real reason for the "we have credible evidence" excuse MUST be the internal polling - and they are polling, they are always polling - results which showed how miserably Dubya's performance in this crisis had registered with most Americans at the time. The Spin Machine was now too on ThreatCon Delta.

Stung by the skeptical response of the media to the "credible evidence" claim - an anonymous phone call! - and the increasing awareness that Dubya had yet to "connect" with the country as this horrible event played out, the next day Dubya dutifully trotted out to show the media the new trick that he had just mastered, he managed to get his eyes to well up with tears, an act so out of character that it made me cringe with embarrassment - for him, for having done it, and for me and the country, for having seen it. He tried his hand at the Clinton down turned mouth, but, failing miserably at that - it looked like a bad cut & paste job - soon reverted to a somewhat modified smirk. I'm thinking, I want Rudy, I want Colin, I'll even settle for Rummy or Cheney, if they can jump start him, just get this guy off TV! Send him on another Heartland Tour - better AWOL than on screen!

But, the man that I really want to see managed to bolt from Australia to NYC in just two days. In a quick, subdued, and respectful appearance, Bill Clinton was on the streets of NYC, offering somber comfort to all that saw him. This was virtually ignored by The NY Times and most of the major media - I only saw it the Long Island Newsday, which was the source of most of the accounts on the web. Most of the media was content to replay the right wing spin that somehow all of this was Clinton's fault.

Friday's speech at the "prayer service" was noticeable only for Dubya's racketing up of his "war" rhetoric. The daily polls obviously showed that belligerence was better suited to his stilted and flat manner of speech. But it was Billy Graham's talk of "America needing a spiritual renewal" that actually caused me to hurl a few choice expletives at the TV. Coming on the heels of Fawell and Robertson's demagogic statements, I am now beginning to feel very apprehensive indeed. It is becoming alarmingly obvious to me, that the whole reactionary coalition that worked to have Dubya illegally, and against the will of the American people, installed as our president, are not beneath using this horrible, this unspeakable human tragedy, as a pretext to further advance their own radical agenda. They are shameless, they are despicable, and they are beneath contempt, but with the war drums beating, they may also be unstoppable.

I woke up Friday night to see the replay of Dubya's appearance at "ground zero" in NYC on CNN - a full four days after the event. I watched with fascination - I rubbed my eyes to make sure that I wasn't in fact dreaming this - and then I watched with disbelief, and then with disgust, at the single most inappropriate reaction to the most horrific event in our nation's recent history by any public official. There he was, cavorting around the ruins of what once was the World Trade Center, currently the tomb of over 5,000 human beings, megaphone in hand, grinning wildly, shouting out inanities like the drunken frat party boy that he is, and obviously having a grand old time of it - it's really cool to be the president! The crowd of exhausted rescue workers were shouting, "USA! USA!", but our clue-less leader must have had a college flashback, and heard, "Crack the keg!" I will never forget the bewildered expression and artificial smile, on the face of the poor, bone tired, firefighter who was chosen to be the prop in this incredible display of bad taste. I shut off the TV, and went back to sleep with a sick feeling in my stomach.

The next day I was depressed to read and see that the media all were reporting this event as a triumph for the president, a display of his "common touch," of his spontaneity, an indication that he had finally found his bearings. But I was not surprised. I am used to having the media tell me that what I have witnessed with my own senses is 180 degrees off the mark. For example, what I saw as an incredibly short, platitude laden, and ineffective inaugural speech delivered badly, the media praised for it's loftiness, it's poetry, and it's brevity.

In fact, the media's response to our two recent national nightmares, the selection and inauguration of an illegitimate president and the foreign attacks on our country, played out in a remarkably similar fashion. The sheer unprecedented enormity of both events left the talking heads stranded in unfamiliar territory. With no easy stock metaphors to describe what was happening they actually had to fall back, at first, on their own impressions and reactions to the events as they happened.

The White House Spin Machine was also in a land without the familiar guideposts, and it flailed around incoherently spinning each new event as it occurred. And so, for awhile at least, some truth leaked out. But when the situation stabilized somewhat, and the contours of the new landscape began to reveal itself, the Spin Machine and the media began to get back in synch. Newsday published on the 14th a scathing editorial about Dubya's failure to show up in NYC - by the 15th the same editorial board was begging forgiveness for acting "intemperately". The media takes its marching orders from the Spin Machine - then, they were trying to help "heal" the country after a divisive election battle, now they are trying to "unite" our country for the battles ahead. And again, I am being lied to.

With all criticism of Dubya effectively shut down by the need for "unity", by the need to "rally" behind the president in this time of "war" - a "war" that he and his administration are actively promoting - the Spin Machine has succeeded in making all negative comments about Dubya's actions on the world stage "unpatriotic", and in a time of national crisis no public figure wants to be labeled as that. And so Dubya has now received the ultimate free pass - with no expiration date - on his radical right-wing agenda.

And it couldn't have happened at a more opportune time. Dubya's agenda was on the ropes in the 10th - the vanishing surplus, and the looming recession (not to mention the fallout from Newsweek's cover story) - all signs pointed to a rough time for the republican agenda. Not anymore. Against the pounding of the war drums, and a nation wide sea of American flags, all political opposition has vanished, and their agenda is poised to sail through. All very convenient. As Dubya said two weeks ago, the only reasons that he would tap into the Social Security Trust Fund would be in cases of war or recession, and now, a mere eight months into his reign, we have both. As Molly Ivins noted in the subtitle of her book (with Lou Dubose) "Shrub - The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush" - "happy" is the operative word here, it all just does to seem to fall his way, doesn't it?

I support and pray for our country, and our officials as they fashion a response to the brutal attacks, I support and pray for our military, as they venture forth to neutralize the threat that our way of life faces. Bluntly put, I want the f****** who did this to my country, and to my city, dead! But I would also bluntly like to add, that I would feel more comfortable if our leaders in this national crisis were the ones who actually deserved to be there. I support the Office of the Presidency, but I just don't have any confidence in the current resident.