Monday, September 19, 2005

The President's Compassion (?)

As they always seem to do when disaster strikes, Americans have responded to Hurricane Katrina with generosity for those affected. They have opened their wallets, and sometimes their homes. The Red Cross alone has received hundreds of millions of dollars in donations; its servers were overwhelmed by people trying to contribute on the internet. Celebrities have donated money and time. Former Vice President Al Gore chartered a flight to evacuate people from New Orleans to Chattanooga; he and his son flew along with the passengers.

Although President Bush constantly urges Americans to donate to the Red Cross and calls on the “armies of compassion” to respond to this disaster, it is not clear that he has taken any significant personal action of his own to respond. President Bush’s response has largely focused on political damage control and carefully choreographed photo ops, not on personal acts of kindness.

Last week, President Bush finally acknowledged personal responsibility for the tragically mismanaged response to Katrina. Even with this acknowledgement, a glaring failure remains. Why hasn’t the president made some prominent personal gesture to demonstrate concern for those his government failed? Crawford, Texas is about five hundred miles from New Orleans. The president could have opened his ranch to displaced survivors. When the president visited the distressed region, he could have taken survivors out with him on Air Force One. He could announce that he will donate half of his $400,000 salary for 2005 to the Red Cross. He would probably manage to get by; he has housing and other necessities paid for by the government, and he has substantial assets.

The president has moved slowly in responding to this tragedy. It is to be hoped that, in time, he will recognize the importance of a personal gesture of compassion. In the absence of such an act, words that aim at compassion ring hollow. Mr. Bush speaks of the importance of personal generosity, but his actions (or inactions) speak louder than his words. The actions of his one-time rival, Mr. Gore, say something quite different. Mr. Gore’s face has not flooded the airwaves; a sheriff who briefly spoke with the former Vice President said that “[Mr. Gore] was not visiting with the media. He was busy working to help the refugees.”

2 Comments:

Blogger Tracy said...

Great point. I enjoyed reading.

12:48 AM  
Blogger Jay_Edelson said...

I'd love to see an article (or blog) showing how much money not just the President has contributed (and if any, where), but also the VP, members of the Cabinet (who can forget the news reports of Condi Rice buying expensive shoes while NO was drowning), and members of Congress.

The only thing I could find on the web was a meager 10 K contribution from Sen. Blanche Lincoln. (See
http://lincoln.senate.gov/press_show.cfm?id=245847)

All members of Congress definitely should be directing some of the campaign contributions they are receiving to benefit the victims of Katrina.

I called up Senator O'Bama's office to inquire about whether he has made any personal donations and was told, by a very helpful aide, that I was entitled to that information and he would get back to me.

Senator Durbin's office was similarly extremely nice, informing me that he has made personal contributions and directing me to his press office for more details.

I also called local Congressman Danny Davis's office and was met with extreme suspecion, with the aide demanding to know if I was a member of the press, debating me about whether that information was available to the public.

4:12 PM  

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