President George W. Bush's bold plan to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast erased by Hurricane Katrina has confirmed what many conservatives feared. Bush isn't a conservative.
Well, he is and he isn't. He isn't a fiscal conservative, if you focus only on his proposed $200 billion reconstruction plan. Stupefied observers and GOP critics have said he's acting like a drunken Democrat, inventing New Deals out of bad credit, and cribbing speeches from that other Texas president, LBJ.
One day he's oblivious to the catastrophe that obliterated parts of three states and the city of New Orleans. Next thing you know, he's a Bourbon Street reveler waving a stolen Amex card and promising to build a new coast and a shining new city - not on a hill, but back in the same sinking swamp it occupied before.
It will be hard, yes, but "we will do what it takes," he told a stunned and reeling nation during his speech from New Orleans last week. We may go bankrupt in the process, but as the South's most famous debutante infamously pouted: "I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow."
Looking more closely at what Bush has proposed, however - and ignoring for a moment the enormous front-end cost - another scene emerges. Seeing the world as Bush does is like looking at one of those computer-generated pictures that you stare at for a long time, trying to let your eyes unfocus on what's close and obvious in order to see the other, often marvelous, image buried within.
You think you're looking at a billion zigzag dots, but then realize you're really seeing a fairy princess fluttering among butterfly gardens and hobbit houses.
It's like that with Bush.
You think you're looking at billions of dollars being tossed out like Mardi Gras beads to a sea of looters and scammers (and those are just the politicians), but then you unfocus your eyes and see what Bush sees: a beautiful landscape of antebellum Habitat for Humanity-built porches filled with happy voucher-educated African-American children giggling on joggling boards in two-parent homes headed by an entrepreneurial father and a stay-at-home mother.
All made possible thanks to Bush's generous reconstruction program wherein - and this is the part that emerges if you stare long enough - he taught the people how to fish.