Sideshow George

In The Calmer in Chief, Ezra pulls a quote from this article that illustrates how truly feckless Bush’s leadership was specifically during the Katrina crisis. As I read the article, I was struck by the repetition of a particular idea—that of Bush as showman, and seemingly little more. (Emphasis mine.)

Longtime Bush watchers say they are not shocked that he missed his moment—one of his most trusted confidants calls him "a better third- and fourth-quarter player," who focuses and delivers when he sees the stakes. What surprised them was that he still appeared to be stutter-stepping in the second week of the crisis, struggling to make up for past lapses instead of taking control with a grand gesture

Bush has always said the presidency is about doing big things, and a friend who chatted with him one evening in July said he seemed to be craving a fresh mission…"He was looking for the next really important thing to do," the friend said…

"Where's the Cathedral speech?" a friend asked in frustration a dozen days after Katrina hit, referring to Bush's address at the Washington National Cathedral on Sept. 14, 2001, when he asked "almighty God to watch over our nation and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come." It's coming, Bush's aides promise. And so are other big gestures.
Grand gesture…really important thing to do…big gestures… Always as a way of deflecting attention away from his administration’s failures. While the clown is getting trampled by the rogue elephant, the spotlights are redirected and the barker tells the crowd it’s no time to ask questions about what went wrong, then directs their attention to Sideshow George, who pulls an American flag out of his hat.

It’s not even a grand gesture, though, is it? Just a flourish, at best.

A grand gesture would be rescuing the clown. A grand gesture would have been, long before things went pear-shaped, making sure the clown—all the clowns, and the audience, too–had health insurance. Grand gestures are selfless and brave, or come unbidden, not as a response to a disaster. But Sideshow George is just a two-bit illusionist who doesn’t have much to do unless the elephant goes haywire.

(Crossposted at Ezra's place.)

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