Let's take a look at this portrait of presidential leadership, as painted by the Associated Press:
"Sitting in (the USS Iwo Jima) mess hall, the president watched large screens beaming to him via videoconference the images of three federal officials -- Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the National Hurricane Center's deputy director Ed Rappaport, and a Federal Emergency Management Agency official -- who gave him updates on the storm. He was told that (Hurricane) Rita was expected to hit the upper-to-middle part of the Texas coast by the weekend, and it could create tropical storm conditions or ... even hurricane-force winds in Louisiana."
I didn't understand why at first, but I found this description -- this finger-on-the-pulse, command-decision setup -- most depressing. Maybe it was because I had just heard the exact same info on my car radio. Sure, the symbolism of the commander in chief on the job is important, but this was showboating. The blowhards of Katrina have whipped up a political windstorm around the president, but I really don't want to see him bend -- and keep bending. After all, this was President Bush's fifth trip to the hurricane zone. Maybe he'll trade in his frequent flyer miles for higher poll numbers.
Do I sound disgruntled? I am also perplexed, left to focus on the inscrutability of such symbolism because the narrative thread of this presidency has become so hard to follow.
For example, Katrina isn't our only crisis. What's up with our borders, for instance? Why doesn't the president bring them under control? So far, the White House solution to the immigration crisis is to plot against border-control advocate Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), conjure up visions of alien amnesty, and now -- final-straw time -- appoint a novice to head up the crucial U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. "I will seek to work with those who are knowledgeable in this area, who know more than I do," 36-year-old Julie Myers told lawmakers at her Senate confirmation hearing last week.
It's not just that Myers' admitted inexperience fails to inspire confidence. It's not just that she is the latest in a string of what columnist Michelle Malkin has called "clueless cronies" appointed to Bush administration jobs in immigration and border security. (Myers is the niece of outgoing Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers, and she just married Secretary Chertoff's chief of staff, John F. Wood.) Downright scary is the symbolism of her appointment -- that President Bush considers immigration law enforcement a handy place to park a well-connected novice.
What's the president thinking? Maybe for the first time in his administration, I haven't a clue. What's really going on in the Middle East? I get the "staying" part of the "staying the course" in Iraq, but frankly the "course" could use some re-tooling to take into account the hard lessons learned (I wish) about fighting Islamic jihad.
And what's really going on with Israel? Having withdrawn from Gaza, Israel doesn't even get Washington lip service when it comes to its determination not to assist in Palestinian Authority elections that feature Hamas terrorists. Which begs the question: Whatever happened to George W. Bush's raison d'etre -- namely, that we oppose terror networks and the countries that support them?
Maybe the answer lies in what passes for tea leaves these days -- as in the fact that the new U.S. ambassador to Israel, Richard Jones, who was most recently Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's right-hand man on Iraq, has "roots in the Arab world so deep," reports The Washington Post, "that his beloved greyhound is named Kisa -- for Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, his first posting in the Arab world." Explains Mr. Jones about his appointment, "Maybe they wanted someone who could provide the Arab perspective, too." Which is weird, at best. Of all countries, Israel certainly knows the Arab point of view, historically delivered at gunpoint. But why, oh why, is the American ambassador concerned with presenting the Arab point of view? Is the Arab point of view the American point of view? And where does that leave us in the so-called war on terror?
Earlier this month, the shocking plan for the memorial to the heroes of Flight 93 was released -- a memorial in the shape of an Islamic crescent. The only elected official to call for a better plan to honor these brave Americans (who, having saved Washington from further destruction on 9/11, plunged to earth hearing Al Qaeda hijackers cry, "Allah is the greatest") was Tom Tancredo. The president and the rest of our leaders were, of course, silent. Maybe we don't expect much more of them anymore, which in itself is symbolic. But if the symbolism is clear, the leadership is not.