Hurricane Katrina blew away the foundation of George Bush’s political survival just as brutally as it scattered rooftops along the Gulf Shores.
What has sustained George Bush has been the perception that he would keep Americans safe at home. Whatever else voters thought about him, large numbers shared this perception.
This was the levee Karl Rove and the Republicans built to keep out doubts about Iraq, anemic jobs numbers, and other rising waters. How many times have we heard them repeat “9/11,” “war on terrorism,” and “protecting us from terrorists”?
It was the bedrock of his reelection campaign. Reinforced by the apocalyptic visions of the Republican Convention coming to life in Beslan massacre in Russia, the Osama Bin Laden election broadcast and, yes, some missteps on our side, it was this perception that enabled George Bush to become the first incumbent president re-elected with approval ratings at 50 percent or less. As pollster Celinda Lake analyzed the 2004 election, “security has become a prism through which voters, especially women, view a number of issues and choices.”
Now he and his administration have failed pathetically to keep Americans safe at home. No backdrops, spin, or lists of supplies can camouflage the failure to protect thousands of people in obvious danger or to carry out the most basic governmental function of all – to preserve public order. Remember “Ashley’s Story,” the advertisement about Bush comforting the 16-year-old whose mother died on 9/11? Telling us “He’s the most powerful man in the world and all he wants to do is make sure I’m safe, that I’m okay,” rings hollow today.
With George Bush’s levee washed away in the storm surge, everything comes pouring in. The fixation on Iraq, the costs of tax cuts, Crawford vacations, phony photo ops and posturing, the shaming of America in the eyes of the world, the callous disregard for those left behind by lopsided economic growth. Now all these – and more – are fair game.
Even 9/11. Even the crowning moment celebrated over and over a year ago at the Republican Convention and in Bush-Cheney advertising. Throughout 2004, questions about the Administration’s preparedness could not get real traction because the residue of goodwill from 9/11 bought George Bush immunity; most of the press and a majority of the public were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when he said “had there been actionable intelligence, we would have moved on it.” Now, with that statement echoed by the foolish “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees,” they have to think again.
When the 17th Street Canal levee gave way, it flooded New Orleans with a brew as foul as the runoff from toxic waste lagoons and the rot of decomposing bodies — the flaccid underbelly of George Bush’s politics.