Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream
In all of his speech about the disaster of hurricane Katrina, there were two paragraphs that had me clearing out my ears. The rest of the speech fell under the “too-little-too-late category”: something more likely designed to prop up his sagging poll numbers than actually save people.
Still, it was an anomaly of epic proportions. I almost expect the Second Coming any day now, so I am packing my bags.
From the historic French Quarter, Bush uttered these words:
"As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well. And that poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.
So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality. When the streets are rebuilt, there should be many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses, along those streets. When the houses are rebuilt, more families should own, not rent, those houses."
Like the many iterations of Barbie Dolls that my girls and many others used to play with growing up, (Executive Barbie, Astronaut Barbie, Nurse or Doctor Barbie, etc) this must have been a version of Democrat Bush. Maybe we can call it "FDR Bush" for those who recall when we had a leader who really did care about the poor, despite his coming from personal wealth.
But was this really George W. Bush talking openly about poverty? Was this George Bush talking about the reality of racism in America? Was this George Bush using the affirmative action-speak of more minorities owning businesses and homes?
It made me wonder weather or not the Surgeon General was waiting just off-stage to give Mr. Bush a drug screen to see if he hadn't fallen back off the wagon. Were these words really written by the Bush speechwriters or did they have to hire the West Wing writers to complete the task?
They must have had a blast writing all this stuff that Republicans have been denying (or at the very least not acknowledging) over the past 5 years under the current Bush reign. I can just see them all sitting around a table, late at night, exhausted from all the spin they'd been trying to keep up for the last two weeks over this flap (lying is really, really hard work!)
They'd be really punchy from all that cold pizza and stale beer night after night, trying to get the spin right - "It was the local rescue that failed,; no, it was the state, yeah that's the ticket, the state" like some poor imitation of that Jon Lovitz character on old SNL reruns.
Then someone hits on it, dopey from the lack of sleep and too much Red Bull to keep them awake: “Hey, let's out-Democrat the Democrats,” someone says. “Let's throw a couple of lines in here that make it seem like we really do understand the plight of these impoverished people.” “Why that’s just crazy enough to work,” someone else retorted in 1940’s cinema style. I even believe they had a line in the first draft about "feeling your pain", but it was tossed out as too Cliton-esque. No, that would clearly give it away, and people are not that stupid.
So what are we to make of this sudden epiphany of honesty: that race may have actually played a part in the poverty that turned a natural disaster into a man-made one? I'm not certain.
I want to believe with every fiber of my being that this is sincere, but then why do I have this nagging feeling that right after Bush got offstage, he was giddy as a frat-boy during pledge week, high fiving everyone saying, "Good job, everyone, good job."
Still, consider the perspective: this is only two paragraphs in a flood of speeches over the last five years from an administration that has simply disavowed any knowledge of poverty or racism as being a problem. I suspect the floodwater of Katrina was more potent than anyone could have guessed. Disasters have a way of dredging up the good and the not so good. It's hard to sweep the truth away, I guess, when it's floating three feet above your living room floor.
Is this the start of a kinder, gentler Bush, to borrow Daddy's words? Will he start subscribing to "The Nation" and actually visiting Michael Moore's web site? Not likely.
Still, hearing those words coming out of Bush's mouth last week was like watching one of those Quisnos commercials with the infant who talks with an adult voice - you don't expect it and, well, frankly, it's just a bit more than creepy. We expect our reality straight up, most of the time, at least when mind altering drugs are not involved.
But still, it was at this moment when I heard these words that my heart actually raced, just for those few seconds. I wanted to cry. It was almost as if Paul Wellstone had not died, and had gone on to win the Presidency. It felt good, really good. Like one of those TV dream sequences where the main character looks off into the distance as the TV screen flashes the blurry special effect and trippy music.
Let's hope Mr. Bush's words go beyond Katrina and into every heart in America. Let's hope this is not a dream sequence, and we are all awake - I mean really awakened - to how the real promise of America can look, if we are only just a little less cynical, and want to help others more. Maybe this can start from the top. Maybe it has.
M C Biegner