Saturday, September 03, 2005
It takes a Potemkin Village
But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast--black and white, rich and poor, young and old--deserve far better from their national government.Now, all politicians, Republican and Democrat, thrive on theater. Photo ops are a non-partisan addiction. Still, the dopey and offensive level of fakery on display here reminded me of something. Wait, I know: a bit I read not long ago in Joan Didion's Political Fictions, about a promotional film made by George H.W. Bush back in 1986, when he was still vice-president. Touring Israel and Jordan, he was determined to demonstrate that he was (in the words of press secretary Marlon Fitzwater) "familiar with the issues." To that end, the film crew and advance team did everything they could to juice up the footage:
Members of the advance team had requested, for example, that the Jordanian army marching band change its uniforms from white to red. They had requested that the Jordanians, who did not have enough equipment to transport Bush's traveling press corps, borrow the necessary helicopters to do so from the Israeli air force. In an effort to assure the color of live military action as a backdrop for the vice president, they had asked the Jordanians to stage maneuvers at a sensitive location overlooking the Golan Heights. They had asked the Jordanians to raise, over the Jordanian base there, the American flag. They had asked that Bush be photographed studying, through binoculars, "enemy territory," a shot ultimately vetoed by the State Department, since the "enemy territory" at hand was Israel. They had also asked, possibly the most arresting detail, that, at every stop on the itinerary, camels be present.Like father, like son.