President George W. Bush said Tuesday he felt personally “responsible” for the slow and mismanaged response by the federal government concerning Hurricane Katrina. It is refreshing to see such honesty from a president who in the past refused point blank to discuss even the possibility of his shortcomings. The gesture is definitely commendable.
For many Americans though, the gesture may be too little, too late. In polls conducted by both Newsweek and Time magazine, the president’s approval ratings have fallen to an all-time low of 38 percent. Two thirds of the Americans polled also said they were not happy with the president’s leadership concerning Hurricane Katrina, making it likely his plummeting approval ratings have a lot to do with his administration’s most recent mismanagement.
It’s also logical to assume the discontent concerning the president is even more widespread in those areas that could not be polled because they have been all but wiped out by Katrina.
Those Americans will likely question Bush’s honesty and motive.
The way in which the president finally leveled with an increasingly annoyed American public could also have been better. In fact, the way in which it was done only further highlighted past mistakes that are still regularly brushed aside.
Nobody expected Bush’s mea culpa to be as flashy as past press events that routinely included big productions, such as the president strutting around on an aircraft carrier or a speech in front of the Statue of Liberty, especially illuminated solely for this occasion.
In the past, Bush has refused to acknowledge any mistakes concerning the escalating situation in Iraq. Even when three separate reporters, during the same press conference, asked him if he could think of “any” mistakes or things he thought could have been handled better, Bush responded he couldn’t think of any. Bush then laughingly added the reporters should have let him know ahead of time they were going to ask him such questions.
Tuesday’s acknowledgement of mistakes concerning Katrina came at an event in which the president also greeted Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Yet the president did not touch on the weapons of mass destruction never found in Iraq, even though his administration had pressured a nation into war touting that very premise.
Nevertheless Bush’s brush with honesty is a step in the right direction. It is a refreshing change from the usual hubris and platitudes that have averted any sense of personal responsibility on his case in the past.