Tuesday, September 13, 2005

HOW TO WRECK A PERFECTLY GOOD EMERGENCY RESPONSE AGENCY ... Create a huge new Cabinet-level bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security, downgrade the emergency response agency, and fold it into the DHS. Oh, and for good measure, cut the agency's budget. (After all, it's not a Cabinet-level agency anymore; it doesn't need all that money.)

For a look at how the shiny new, bells-and-whistles-complete, homeland security bureaucracy morphed from George W. Bush's and Andrew Card's glamorous brainchild to an object lesson in how emergency response broke down in the face of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, read John Dickerson's article in Slate.

Dan Froomkin remarks on the sudden willingness of the White House press corps to reveal the secret (to the general public) Bush behind the folksy, grinning Bush most of us usually see. It has something to do with the media's reactiveness: Reports start to come out about Bush's lack of empathy and seeming paralysis following Katrina, and all of a sudden it's like everyone in the MSM has been given permission to share their private impressions of the president.

Amid a slew of stories this weekend about the embattled presidency and the blundering government response to the drowning of New Orleans, some journalists who are long-time observers of the White House are suddenly sharing scathing observations about President Bush that may be new to many of their readers.

Is Bush the commanding, decisive, jovial president you've been hearing about for years in so much of the mainstream press?

Maybe not so much.

Judging from the blistering analyses in Time, Newsweek, and elsewhere these past few days, it turns out that Bush is in fact fidgety, cold and snappish in private. He yells at those who dare give him bad news and is therefore not surprisingly surrounded by an echo chamber of terrified sycophants. He is slow to comprehend concepts that don't emerge from his gut. He is uncomprehending of the speeches that he is given to read. And oh yes, one of his most significant legacies -- the immense post-Sept. 11 reorganization of the federal government which created the Homeland Security Department -- has failed a big test.

Maybe it's Bush's sinking poll numbers -- he is, after all, undeniably an unpopular president now. Maybe it's the way that the federal response to the flood has cut so deeply against Bush's most compelling claim to greatness: His resoluteness when it comes to protecting Americans.

But for whatever reason, critical observations and insights that for so long have been zealously guarded by mainstream journalists, and only doled out in teaspoons if at all, now seem to be flooding into the public sphere.

An emperor-has-no-clothes moment seems upon us.

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