What A Successful Speech For Bush Needs To Include
The President has the opportunity tonight to capture the imagination of Americans about the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast in general and New Orleans in particular. Or he can come on half prepared and have people viewing it as so many encouraging words.
The guy spending time on the Gulf Coast needs to be the same guy who spoke with a bull horn at Ground Zero in 2001. And while it was certainly an easier job to rally people to return the favor to al Qaida, the moral dimension is missing. It was a mindless storm that didn't mean to do anything. It was a collection of atmospheric conditions that, like a boulder rolling downhill, hit what it hit, as storms just like it have done for millennia. But in the modern day, people like and commerce necessitates coastal life. So here's what he needs to do.
The Emotional Element
As stupid as people can be, there is nothing that makes people want to do good things than seeing others do good things. The reason why Oprah is so popular is because she moved away from the trash talk show and started making her show relevant to people who want to do good. Rather than dwelling in the problem, her show is all about demonstrating the solution in action. Bush needs to do the same.
Talk about people helping, and getting their hands dirty. Talk about people's lives changing for the better out of the storm. Talk about the hope that we are seeing springing up. Talk about what real people are doing to make the lives of others better. And make the aid component relevant to ordinary Americans who live nowhere near the area. Tell them how to be part of what is becoming a very patriotic relief effort. People want to be part of a winning team.
This is going to be wildly expensive, and part of the pitch will be that the President wants to spend more on the Gulf Coast than we have in Iraq. But how do we pay for that?
The suggestion that we raise taxes should by now be viewed as yesterday's easy answer to any problem. Tax increases help nobody except the government, and the government, in an ironic twist, also tends helps nobody, but rather adds confusion. But boy can they blow cash.
In this environment, a tax increase, coupled with a Fed that is increasing interest rates, and astoundingly high energy costs spells economic doom. And it would be silly to presume that this president and this Congress would permit such a thing. And despite the fact that he is term-limited, Bush doesn't want to risk the success of Iraq by imperiling the economy, which would limit his flexibility in prosecuting the war.
And as noted above, the government has made an art form of hosing down problems with money. Therefore, Bush needs a plan to use the cash.
As for the means, while I would vociferously oppose a tax increase, I am willing to give as I see fit. Allow additional tax incentives to private giving to Katrina's relief effort which will loosen people's pockets. It's one less thing the Feds and states have to administer, and it can get there quicker and in a more tangible way. Allow tax incentives for businesses developing in the region over top of wreckage, and special relief for businesses hiring locals whose jobs were washed away in the storm and floods. And this may be time for our Members of Congress to tighten their belts a bit.
There are few things which grate against economic growth more than pork. Both the needless spending which often does very little to promote the general welfare, save for needed road repair and other bona fide public works and infrastructure upgrades, and the draining of real cash from the pockets of people and businesses who will reinvest it in the market need to be stopped. But this has been a known problem for years, we have railed about it for years, and a change of party control does nothing. The Republicans did zilch to stop it once they took power in 1995. But I am willing to see a few programs nixed from my district in order to be redirected to the relief fund. The President needs to demand (yes, demand) of Congress that they cut the pork and redirect their wasteful home town projects to the recovery of the Gulf states. It won't happen otherwise, as distributing pork is Congress's most important job next to establishing commemorative legislation, like declaring a "National Body Odor Awareness Week" and funding the PSAs for it.
But even if they go along with it, how do we ensure that the cash is not wasted? Big spending leaves room for plenty of fraud and abuse, and just plain careless spending. Bush needs to urge state and local leaders to formulate their own plans for rebuilding what was lost, based upon competitive bids by reputable contractors to replace infrastructure, destroyed and damaged buildings, etc. for submission to and for payments administered by FEMA, rather than being based on loose estimates that encourage waste. It needs to be run like a private construction project which, while not always perfect, or even close to it, will run better than any government boondoggle. Show us the projects, show us the bids, we'll write the checks.
The Blame Game
Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid want a commission to study who screwed up worst. Because the 9/11 Commission, made up of two chairmen who were complete dolts, mostly clueless political butt-coverers from across the spectrum, and one Commissioner who was essentially investigating herself. They did a very nice job of ignoring evidence that didn't fit the version they wanted to portray, and thinking comfortably inside the box. They didn't want to offend anyone (especially themselves and former employers), so they came up with a middle ground result that told us nothing new, criticized the poor functioning of bureaucracy, and then recommended adding a bunch more bureaucracy to fix the part that already wasn't working. Brilliant.
I am reluctant to see such a painful waste of time, money and effort, and I hope that the President continues to be reluctant to form such a body. And I have not yet heard such a call from Mary Landrieu, David Vitter, Bobby Jindal, or any other members from the Louisiana delegation (please post cites to same if I am wrong). So I can only imagine that it's another effort on the part of the leftist Democrats in the Senate to try to blame Bush for anything that ever goes wrong.
I feel fairly comfortable with the history as it has been laid out. The Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana didn't take the threat seriously until it was too late. They did not bus people from New Orleans. They did not enforce an evacuation order, and even dallied in making the order. On top of that, they stalled federal relief efforts because the Governor was conscious of her turf. But the Feds weren't perfect either. FEMA was indeed improperly staffed, and the bureaucrats tripped over one another's feet. The Director was in over his head and knew it. It was a confluence of clumsy and ineffective form over function. But it does seem that some of the more serious foul ups occurred on the local and state level. FEMA, such as it was, had little to work with when they got to Louisiana. And note that almost all of the problems are restricted to Louisiana in general and New Orleans in particular. We hear only minimal gripes about bureaucratic problems out of the equally devastated Mississippi and Alabama Gulf coasts.
So if we have to drop another wad on another ad hoc committee which the Democrats pray will give them the goods to attack Bush, I recommend that we pull in people who would know best--fire marshals, police chiefs, Coast Guard rescue types, experienced first responders who know what these efforts need to include and who would be least likely to think anything political, or to suggest one more useless government office. The Dems will get their little report. And they won't like its results. Neither will some elected officials in Louisiana.
This will be yet another defining moment for Bush. He needs to sell a big thing to us and rally us to be part of it.
Hopefully the post 9/11 Bush is who we see, not the post 11/2/04 Bush whose communication skills leave him open to attack and create the impression of an indifferent leader.
**Note: I edited this slightly since my initial post for spelling, grammar and clarity which suffer when one posts on the fly.