George Fiddles While Wall Street Burns
Where's George? The president, I mean.
You remember him. Dubya. No. 43. Won a second term a few years ago. It was in all the papers.
But where has he been lately? Where has he been during America's worst financial crisis since the Great Depression?
Nowhere. AWOL. Every now and then, when the stock market takes yet another sickening plunge, a few words issue forth from the presidential lips. A very few words. Delivered with the greatest reluctance.
"I will continue to closely monitor the situation in our financial markets and consult with my economic advisers," President Bush said Thursday in a two-minute address from the Rose Garden.
That's right, two minutes. Delivered, according to the official White House transcript, from 10:15 a.m. EDT to 10:17 a.m. EDT. Maybe you missed it. Maybe you were at work. Maybe the president doesn't care.
Maybe that's the problem.
George W. Bush will continue to draw a paycheck until noon on Jan. 20, 2009 (if there is still any money left in the U.S. Treasury to pay him, that is). But what has he been doing to earn his pay lately? Not calming fears among his fellow citizens about their life savings, that's for sure.
On Monday, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 504 points — its worst decline since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But Bush did not address the nation that night.
Instead, he held a state dinner for the president of Ghana. Gratin of Maine lobster, late-summer corn pudding, ginger-scented farm lamb and graham cracker crumble with cocoa pod shell was served. Eleven members of the cast of "The Lion King" came down from Broadway and performed. It was quite a bash. The Washington Post described President Bush and Ghanaian President John Kufuor as "ebullient."
I have nothing against Ghana. I have been to Ghana. I really liked the people there. And considering President Kufuor had Bush over for dinner in February when Bush was in Ghana, Bush was only being polite. (To honor Bush in February, Kufuor renamed a local highway the "George Bush Motorway." Bush did not return the favor this week, perhaps because he intends to sell the naming rights to our federal highways for quick cash.)
The toast President Bush gave to President Kufuor Monday was 383 words long.
Could this be a case of misplaced priorities? Do you think?
We are talking about a real crisis in America that is going to turn into a real panic unless the president does something. Modern presidents have assumed duties beyond their constitutional ones, and one duty is to provide guidance and leadership that establish calm and restore confidence in times of trouble. George Bush did this very well following Sept. 11, but he is not doing it now.
The stock market swoons, home prices fall, job losses mount. But the president does not want to talk about it. Not really. And he certainly does not want to take any questions about it.
He has not taken any questions on anything since Aug. 6. On Wednesday, his press secretary, Dana Perino, explained why. "If you guys (i.e., reporters) had him in here, almost everything would be geared towards the election, and he is cognizant of that," Perino said. "I mean, every time that I would think about maybe having a press conference, the news of the day would be such that we might be talking about lipstick on a pig, and the president is just not going to get involved in it."
In other words, the president is not going to get involved with restoring public confidence in our financial system because he is afraid somebody might ask him a question about politics. And because he doesn't want to talk about politics (and why doesn't he, considering he is supporting John McCain?), he won't talk about anything.
Does this make any sense? Calm any fears? Soothe any troubled minds?
Does the president have a magic wand that can make the current crisis go away? No. That is my point. Because the president lacks a magic wand, he must use the tools at his disposal, one of which is the bully pulpit.
He needs to sit down behind that big desk in the Oval Office and have a formal address to this nation. Then, he needs to hold a news conference and answer questions, even the unpleasant ones.
And if he wants to have "The Lion King" performed afterward, fine.
To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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