A world leader who can’t lead
Americans dissatisfied with Bush’s response to Katrina.
Hurricane Katrina has revealed the true character of the American president, said Philippe Grangereau in Paris' Libération. George W. Bush, the least hardworking president in history, continued playing at his Texas ranch while his fellow citizens drowned and starved in New Orleans. Most Americans get only two weeks of vacation, if that, but the president had been riding his bike, chopping wood, and fund-raising for five weeks. When he finally, 'œgrudgingly,' cut his revelry short by two days and traveled to the devastated Gulf Coast, it was too late. America, and the world, had already seen that the superpower's leader 'œlacks leadership.'
Remember that deer-in-the-headlights look when Bush was informed of the 9/11 attacks? said Stefan Kornelius in Munich's Suddeütsche Zeitung. Bush seemed similarly helpless in this second national crisis. And he 'œshowed the same political denseness.' Just as he kept reading a story to schoolchildren while thousands of Americans were burning to death in the twin towers, so he kept smiling and joking as floods engulfed whole cities. In that first crisis, though, he was able to recover quickly and portray himself as 'œstrong and decisive.' But this time around, Americans are not so easy to fool. They have watched the death toll in Iraq rise month after month with no end in sight. 'œIt is slowly dawning on them' that tough talk and the profligate use of military power are no substitute for true leadership.
A little compassion would have gone a long way, said Howard Jacobson in the London Independent. But Bush can't even fake it. 'œNo light of humanity in the eyes. No gravitas on the face.' The only emotion he can muster is defensiveness. 'œIt's cold comfort, but if you are a Muslim who believes that the West values Western lives above Muslim lives, the American president's demeanor over the last days points to a more democratic reading: The leader of the Western world lacks a language in which to value any life.'
The president's indifference was so apparent, and so appalling, said Annette Levy-Willard, also in Libération, that it 'œroused the American press from its patriotic torpor.' Television news, 'œnormally so conformist and excessively respectful of power,' finally dared to question the administration's lies. Networks used split screens to reveal the truth: On one side, an administration official saying everything was fine; on the other, images of old people and the poor clinging to rooftops, dying of thirst. Rather than serving corporate goals, 'œAmerican television performed a public service.' It lived up to the mission of the press to defend the poor and 'œcriticize the political class.' If such zeal lasts after the flood waters ebb, Americans could have a long overdue political awakening.