Thursday, September 15, 2005

Ahead of Bush's Big Dumb Speechery tonight

From this week's Newsweek, How Bush Blew It:
Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

How this could be - how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness" as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century - is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace...

... Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him. Bush can ask tough questions, but it's mostly a one-way street. Most presidents keep a devil's advocate around... When Hurricane Katrina struck, it appears there was no one to tell President Bush the plain truth: that the state and local governments had been overwhelmed, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not up to the job and that the military, the only institution with the resources to cope, couldn't act without a declaration from the president overriding all other authority.

I always imagined that Bush surrounded himself with competent people, experienced minds who could make up for his lack of experience and/or interest in policy making.

But the above excerpts highlight probably the biggest problem with the Bush Administration. It doesn't matter how brilliant his advisors are if they are not willing to give him the bad news, to tell him that, just maybe, his gut instinct might be wrong, that they think he may need to take a bathroom break to think things over. Because then they just become enablers of his instinct, and serve only to supplement, not complement, his strengths and weaknesses. The Administration, like Bush, ends up being all politics, no policy.

So they trap themselves in Bush's bad ideas. They certainly do a good job of framing his ideas in a way that the people will buy it. It's fine when the script writes itself as it did after 9/11. What they can't do, to extend an awkward analogy, is provide customer care when consumers realize they'd been sold lemons.

Rather than fix the products or offer improvements, Bush simply chooses to sell a new product, be it Social Security, elections in Iraq or repealing the estate tax. A fancy new product launch won't save Bush from the Katrina mess, of course. Not yet anyway. We'll just have to see what he has to say tonight, though I don't expect much more than the standard customer service rep script - show of sympathy, superficial assumption of responsibility and day-late-dollar-short plans.

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