Wretch-Stained Ink

Facing the offal truth about Bush's propaganda machinery

The Bush circus train now is easy to describe—its crew members are still running an election campaign, with all the bells and whistles: the carefully selected audiences, the president's incessant stump speeches, the stage props, and the billboard-like slogans. This is more like a sales campaign for a new line of gas-guzzling SUVs than a competent government leadership team wrestling with matters of war and peace and the travails of ordinary people.

To this White House, apparently, everything is merely an issue of image, of getting a soothing message up on some giant screen. Example: His handlers, remember, took President Bush to devastated New Orleans, placed him in a historic square and framed him in messianic blue lights with his collar unbuttoned like a regular person. Then, in a nationwide television speech crafted to mask the shame of how his government had bungled the rescue and relief effort after the gargantuan Hurricane Katrina laid waste to the Gulf Coast, he promised the survivors that he would spare no expense to restore their dwellings and their towns and cities.

"We will do what it takes," he said. "We will stay as long as it takes . . . "

That was the night of September 15. Three months have passed, but major decisions about rebuilding are still stalled by vacillation and red tape. According to a Brookings Institution study published on December 7, more than $21 billion has been "allocated" to New Orleans alone, and $19 billion of that has been spent. Half has gone to "administration" and "general operations." Meanwhile, only one—yes, one—of New Orleans's 116 public schools is open. Two-thirds of the 276,000 applications for low-interest home-rebuilding loans—earmarked for low-income families—have yet to be reviewed. Worse, of those reviewed, more than 80 percent have been rejected, on the grounds that applicants' incomes or credit ratings were too low.

Protests from the hurricane victims have multiplied. What does the White House do? It announces that it will "allocate" another $1.5 billion to rebuild the breached levees. That should mute the protests from the legions of Gulf Coasters now living as refugees in trailer parks and motels. All aboard the Public Relations Express!

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