Wishful Thinking

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Garance Franke-Ruta thinks the White House’s public relations campaign in the wake of Katrina has proved a total flop. Indeed, it really has. What between rounding up firemen to use as photo props, to disrupting the relief effort with presidential visits, this hasn’t been the perfectly stage-managed presidency we’ve come to know over the years. The president has always been a disaster, but never this obvious of a disaster.

On the other hand, I’m not sure any of these blunders will necessarily hurt Bush politically—or his minions for that matter—in the long run. In the early days of 9/11, remember, Bush reacted embarrassingly: from sitting around poking through “The Pet Goat” to hiding up on Air Force One the first day, and all but disappearing for a brief while after that. But he came back with his bullhorn speech and people soon forgot about the early gaffes. As Mark Schmitt argued yesterday, a lot of people needed to believe that the president knew what he was doing, needed to believe that he was the very picture of boldness and resolution, and so they did.

The same thing will likely happen with Katrina. That early photo of Bush strumming Nero-like while New Orleans sunk will soon fade from memory, and the president will have a whole year, or more, to direct “relief efforts” and make sure the GOP gets full credit for rebuilding New Orleans, regardless of what problems ensue. Conservatives angry at the president today will soon find an excuse to fall back in line behind their guy. The press, meanwhile, will remember once again how to kowtow. And so on. The expectation that the White House has completely bungled the post-hurricane P.R. game and will now somehow collapse under its own weight seems, I think, like an overly-complacent assumption.

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