From Newsweek’s Evan Thomas: How Bush blew it.
The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. 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.
This is the same paradox that was exposed, on a smaller scale, a few months back when a small Cessna inadvertantly flew over the White House, causing a panicked evacuation. Bush was out riding his bike at the time, and it came out afterward that even though his Secret Service detail was informed about what was going on, no one bothered to tell Bush until 40 minutes later, after people figured out that it wasn’t actually a terrorist attack and the all-clear had been sounded.
As I commented at the time, Bush is pretty much the last person people want to have in the loop during a fast-breaking crisis. The reality of his presidency is that he isn’t in charge in the classic Martin Sheen on The West Wing, Harrison Ford in Air Force One sort of sense. He’s not actually a forceful, quick-thinking leader; he just plays one on TV.
Well, that works fine as long as he has underlings who can do the fast thinking and decision-making in a crisis. As anyone who’s been paying attention should know by now, that’s normally Dick Cheney’s job. But Cheney was out of town, unavailable, and tragically, the top ranks of the executive branch have been systematically purged of intelligent, forceful, independent-minded people capable of acting quickly in a crisis.
George Bush doesn’t like those kinds of people. My personal take on this, from my perspective as a dyed-in-the-wool Bush hater and armchair pseudo-psychologist, is that their competence is a direct challenge to his oh-so-fragile ego, his ever-lurking sense of inadequacy, the bruised inner child he carries from his time growing up in the shadow of a cruel dominatrix of a mother and a distant, over-achieving father.
Put simply, Bush doesn’t value competence. He values loyalty. And the result is that he has surrounded himself with loyal incompetents. (With one exception: his political operation. His image-crafting team is second to none. It’s the one compromise he’s had to make in order to achieve and maintain the position of power his ego needs.)
Anyway, loyal incompetents aren’t much use when the shit is hitting the fan, as we’ve all been seeing over the last few weeks. The government Bush has crafted is basically dysfunctional, and Katrina exposed it as such.