From Behind the Curtain
A friend who shall remain nameless is offering me a glimpse behind the New York Times subscription wall--today I was lucky enough to get Bob Herbert's latest:
A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found for the first time that a majority of Americans do not see Mr. Bush as a strong and decisive leader. In an article in USA Today, Carroll Doherty of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center said of Mr. Bush: "He's lost ground among independents. He seems to be starting to lose ground among his own party. And he lost the Democrats a long time ago."
Reality is caving in on a president who was held aloft for so long by a combination of ideological mumbo-jumbo, the public relations legerdemain of Karl Rove and the buoyant patriotism that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. The Bush people were never big on reality, so sooner or later they were bound to be blindsided by it.
Remember, there was already a war going on when Katrina came to call. I've always believed that war is a serious matter. But the president was on vacation. Dick Cheney was on vacation. And Condi Rice was here in New York taking in the sights and shopping for shoes. That Americans were fighting and dying on foreign soil was not enough to demand their full attention. They were busy having fun. So it's no wonder it took a good long while before they noticed that a whole section of America had been wiped out in a calamity of biblical proportions.
What Americans are finally catching onto is the utter incompetence of this crowd. And if we didn't know before, we're learning now, in the harshest possible ways, that incompetence has bitter consequences. The body count of Americans killed in Iraq has now passed 1,900, with many more deaths to come. But there's still no strategy, no plan. The White House hasn't the slightest clue about what to do. So the dying will continue.
Mr. Bush's "Top Gun" moment aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln was two and a half years ago. It was another example of the president in fantasyland. The war was a botch from the beginning. Mr. Bush never sent enough troops to get the job done, and he never provided enough armor to protect the troops that he did send. Thin-skinned, the president got rid of anyone who had the temerity to suggest he might be wrong about some of the decisions he was making.
Here at home, even loyal Republicans are beginning to bail out on Mr. Bush's fiendish willingness to shove the monumental costs of the federal government's operations - including his war, his tax cuts and his promised reconstruction of the Gulf Coast - onto the unsuspecting backs of generations still to come.
There is a general sense now that things are falling apart. The economy was already faltering before Katrina hit. Gasoline prices are starting to undermine the standard of living of some Americans, and a full-blown home-heating-oil crisis could erupt this winter. The administration's awful response to the agony of the Gulf Coast has left most Americans believing that we are not prepared to cope with a large terrorist attack. And Osama bin Laden is still at large.
This is what happens when voters choose a president because he seems like a nice guy, like someone who'd be fun at a barbecue or a ballgame. You'd never use that criterion when choosing a surgeon, or a pilot to fly your family across the country.
Mr. Bush will be at the helm of the ship of state for three more years, so we have no choice but to hang on. But the next time around, voters need to keep in mind that beyond the incessant yammering about left and right, big government and small, Democrats and Republicans, is a more immediate issue, and that's competence.
Indeed. The issue IS competence, just as it was last year (and, to fill my own sail for just a moment, that's exactly what I told candidate Kerry when he made a quick stop here in BR).
In these times, we need more than a Barbecue'er in Chief.