Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Optics

Optional soundtrack to this post may be found here.

So, speaking of anniversaries … last week was the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall in Louisiana, and making a disastrous mess of the city of New Orleans particularly.

People have different reactions to the mention of that storm. Some think of all those people stranded on rooftops, and in the Superdome. Some think about all that history, of jazz and other things, lost. Some think of politics and emergency responses. Some people think about larger issues of economics and race and such.

Some people would clearly rather we just didn’t remember the whole thing … or at least the bad stuff.

George W. Bush, who was the President when Katrina hit, returned to New Orleans last week to take part in ceremonies commemorating the catastrophe. He made a speech at the Warren Easton Charter High School, and early in the speech he said this:

Hurricane Katrina is a story of loss beyond measure; it is also a story of commitment and compassion. I hope you remember what I remember, and that is 30,000 people were saved in the immediate aftermath of the storm by U.S. military personnel, by Louisiana law enforcement, and by citizens who volunteered. I hope you remember what I remember, and that is the thousands who came here on a volunteer basis to provide food for the hungry and to help find shelter for those who had no home to live in. There are people all around our country who prayed for you, many of whom showed up so they could say they helped a fellow citizen who was hurting.”

The bit of that speech which got my attention was that last sentence, a bit passed over by the few news stories that I heard which went into any great detail about the speech. Considering the frightening enormity of Katrina and its effects – it laid waste to a major American city! (how do we know it’s a major city? It’s got an NFL franchise, that’s how we know) – darn few news outlets spent the kind of time on it that I would have predicted, or hoped.

Many Americans, said the former president, came to New Orleans “so they could say they helped a fellow citizen who was hurting.”

I think Mr. Bush revealed something about himself there and about a great many political figures in our time, particularly those whose gig it was to bring help to all those “fellow citizens”. That has appeared to be Mr. Bush’s stock-in-trade since the very beginning – the unintentional moment of naked truth, which I once heard called the “Catapult-the-Propaganda Moment”. Mr. Bush has been capable of monumental manglings of the English language – putting food on families, “cain’t get fooled again”, all those gems. But – and he’s not the only politician ever to achieve this, but he’s in the top tier – I think his truly revelatory moments come when his use of the language (whether off-the-cuff or while reading from written remarks), examined carefully, serves as a small but clear window into his inner workings. (And no, he’s not the only politician who opens these windows without realizing.)

Here, with the luxury of hindsight, I note that he didn’t say something like “people … came to New Orleans to help their fellow citizens.”

Instead, he said – and I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that he was psychologically projecting himself onto the people he was speaking of – that the people showed up so they could say they helped a fellow citizen who was hurting.” So they could boast afterward about having done this great thing.

So they could look like they were doing this great thing. For the photo ops. It’s good optics.

Is this linguistic nitpicking? Is my admittedly dim view of our 43rd president clouding my judgment, causing me to jump at shadows? Or does this little tiny scrap of a statement echo the photograph of Mr. Bush, days after Katrina made landfall, looking out of an Air Force One window at the devastation below and (the White House press office surely was hoping) exuding sympathy and caring, albeit from many thousands of feet in the air? Or does it summarize his very presence at the Katrina commemoration ceremony last weekend?

Am I making too much out of this?

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September 2, 2015 - Posted by | current events, news, politics | , , , , , , , , ,

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