for a Leader
September 22, 2001
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
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
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.