AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
A journalist has made an extremely profound statement while working Hurricane Katrina coverage from the Houston Astrodome.
In relating an encounter with a bereft hurricane evacuee, the journalist said, "All I could do was just put my arm around her and let her cry. I mean, what could you possibly say at a moment like that? 'Don't worry, it will all be OK'? That would be stupid."
"That would be stupid."
Is it any coincidence, Mr. President, that your latest 'Mission Accomplished!' spin phrase since this tragedy began to unfold has been, "Don't worry everyone ... it will all be OK."? You have repeated it many, many times this past week.
Yet things couldn't be further from OK. You would have to be stupid not to see that.
You ask that people not politicize this crisis. And yet it is your politics that have put us in this crisis in the first place.
Your glorious brainchild, the Department of Homeland Security, has effectively proven what the majority of Americans have outright known, if not sensed, to be true for the past four years -- that the United States of America is no more prepared today than we were on September 10, 2001.
3,000+ lives lost on 9/11. 1,881 troops lost in Iraq to "Operation-Whatever-We're-Calling-It-This-Week". Countless billions of dollars and four years spent on "making Americans safe from terra". And all of it in vain. The entire world has witnessed our Federal Government in the pathetic throes of their inability to effectively aid and protect it's own citizens on even the most basic of levels, despite grandiose boasts and promises.
And yet you built the political platform for your second term upon it ...a Wonka-esque vision of a world safe for freedom and democracy, with you at the helm, the torch of liberty hung high, lighting a path for us through dark and uncertain times ahead. Any of your opponents who dared attack or question this glorious vision would be ceremoniously mud-slung into the fiery pit of an un-Patriotic hell. Your spin doctors were quite ruthless about it.
As for the voting public, some of us bought it and some of us didn't. Those who bought it got tax breaks. Those who didn't got out their passports and contemplated Canada.
The major issue before us today, Mr. President, is leadership. Plain and simple. Your credibility as a leader has been undermined by not only your inability to accomplish anything of merit, but also by your oddly detached, coldly aloof attitude toward the needs and feelings of your fellow human beings. Currently, more than one-half of this nation sees you as an election-stealing, war mongering, oil baronesque liar. You can now add "Nero-esque" to that list.
Why? Because it seems that any opportunity presented you to prove your mettle as a true leader usually concludes with a highly debatable outcome. An outcome typically shrouded in controversial half-truths, curious deceptions, meaningless spin phrases, dubious achievements, moronic excuses and an unnerving amount of dead people.
This hurricane, however devastating, could very well be the defining moment of your Presidency. Did you show the American people and the world your legacy -- a post 9/11 America that could rise to any challenge and come through the adversity as a stronger, ever-united nation with you as our leader?
No. You showed the American people and the world that while we braced for what was sure to be one of the worst natural disasters in our history, you could continue to languish in the dog-days of a five week vacation, aptly avoiding a single woman with a single burning question. Briefly, you did go on television one time to appear serious and in charge, restate the obvious, and tell everyone not to worry ... that everything would be OK.
A true leader would have returned to Washington prior to the hurricane's arrival. In a time of crisis, the people look to see that their leader is "on top of the situation". There is no greater symbolic soundstage in which to be "on top of the situation" than the Oval Office. True leaders recognize the merit in that. People don't feel protected and reassured with their leader dealing with crisis from a ranch. We get hay and manure from ranches. Not leadership.
Two days after the storm struck, as American citizens were drowning in their own attics, you were still out on the road, stopping to share some laughs and birthday cake with a man whose character your spin-machine at one time had utterly assassinated. The following day, as even the most basic of relief was now already days late to hundreds of thousands of desperate American citizens, you were still out on the road, kicking it up at some sort of a fundraiser, strumming a guitar as if you had not a care in the world.
And it seemed to the world that the Federal Government's response to this catastrophe could not begin until two days into the disaster, when you flew over it in your fully-stocked, fully air-conditioned 747 (paid for by the taxes of the people who were now drowning down below), shake your head, appear appropriately appalled and acknowledge that yes, we'd had a really bad hurricane.
Once you were finally back in Washington, now several days into the catastrophe, you took a quick moment to appear serious and in charge again, restate the obvious, and tell everyone not to worry... that everything would be OK. You also made some kind of mention of our impending oil crisis -- "Don't buy gas if you don't need it," to use your Yale-educated, Commander-In-Chiefy words. We were also made aware that Bill and your daddy were going to raise some money to help the hurricane victims. Exit stage left. Your message of compassion to the people of a stricken nation.
For nearly six whole days, as American citizens lay dead or dying amidst their own vomit, urine and feces in the streets like common animals, you left one of the worst crises this nation has ever endured to a Secretary of Homeland Security who referred to thousands of American citizens dying of neglect in the New Orleans Convention Center as "an unfounded rumor", and to a Director of FEMA who essentially stated that those now suffering in the misery got what they deserved for not heeding the warnings in the first place. How nice.
People cried for help, and none came. The elderly and the infirm began to die, and still no help came. Local officials begged and pleaded for military assistance to quell the violence and looting, and still none came. Doctors pleaded to get sick infants evacuated from hospitals, and still none came. Dead American citizens lay on highway overpasses in broad view in a major American city, and still no help came.
To the world it seemed that there was no great rush or effort to inject any type of a Federal presence into the chaos, other than to spout false, conflicting or incomplete information, and make empty promises that took nearly a week to keep.
Can you not see, Mr. President, how days and days into this crisis your own citizens looked on in horror as they slowly realized, "My God, there is absolutely no one in control!"?
Can you not see, Mr. President, how all along bureaucrats kept thanking each other in canned speeches typically reserved for Academy Award recipients over an immediate response that had not yet come, even as the death toll was mounting and the unanswered pleas for help continued?
And after days of being continuously pressed again and again as to where the help was, the so-called leaders of this, the greatest nation on earth, finally announced to the civilized world that they were unable to immediately do anything to alleviate this horror, because .... well, because there had been a major hurricane followed by a major flood. Oh, and they hadn't expected it would be that bad.
And that, Mr. President, is your vision of an "acceptable response". And that, Mr. President, is a "special kind of stupid".
The media, thankfully, have recorded it from the beginning. Every empty word. Every misstep that needlessly cost us perhaps thousands of lives. Every image of the removed indifference of an ineffective President and his ineffective Administration stumbling blindly through a catastrophe that is to be their ultimate test ... a test they have so far ultimately failed. A pattern which will undoubtably continue.
You will not be able to lie and slink your way out of this one. Your deer-in-the-headlights incompetence has been broadcast into far too many living rooms.
Spare us your photo ops now, Mr. President. There is no need for you to tour the damaged areas. Those that have actually been doing something amid that horror are so far behind in their work (thanks to you) that they don't have time to pose for cameras. They don't have time for your feigned, meaningless sympathy for the survivors. Those survivors needed you almost a week ago. We are fully aware that there has been a catastrophe ... we don't need you to continually restate the obvious. We're not stupid. We are in need of leadership ... leadership that you are not able to provide us.
Mr. President, you have once again dropped the proverbial ball like a shoebox full of yellowcake uranium from Niger. And as our so-called Commander In Chief, this time you need to be the one held accountable.
This was the leadership the nation and the world witnessed: a fumbling, intermittent, kneejerk reaction response from an Administration supposedly prepared, and you repeating over and over that everything would be OK, that we will rebuild.
Perhaps a generation or two from now, it will all be OK. The majority of us are not stupid. Right now, however, some people are simply more pre-occupied with retrieving their dead, searching desperately for their children or surviving another night with no food, water, medicine or humane facilities of any kind.
They're not quite with you on the "rebuilding a glorious Gulf Coast" bandwagon just yet. They're going to need a little more time. You're better off saving it for the folks at Halliburton.
Given this Administration's appallingly slow, bungled and insensitive response to this catastrophe, Mr. President, any death from this point moving forward should be considered an act of genocide.
Yes, genocide. Things have gotten that ugly, and this time you will not wriggle free with deception and lies. Your "throw something against the wall and see what sticks" strategy can no longer be tolerated. Not after American citizens watched American infants dying needlessly in the flooded streets of a major American city. No way.
The blood of those innocents is on your hands. Your ineffectiveness has been proven time and again. It is time for you and your uncaring Administration to step aside, and let someone else handle this job. There are very hard tasks and very dark days ahead, and it is once again painfully obvious that you are not the person to lead us through them. Our great nation cannot survive another moment under your incompetence.
Rather than the legacy of a great leader bringing a great nation into a new millennium, your legacy instead will be remembered in the history books as the President who strummed while the Nation wept.