Tips on How To Be a President

While their colleagues report on the ground from washed- out swatches of the Gulf Coast, political reporters with Washington, D.C. datelines are busy today “analyzing” (read: speculating about) What Hurricane Katrina Could Mean for the President — with a little help from their friends (read: professors/experts/unnamed sources).

The Associated Press’ Ron Fournier has one of the more pessimistic takes (parenthetical translations courteously supplied by CJR Daily): “Cutting short his vacation and marshaling the power of the federal government (in other words, doing his job) could help reverse [Bush]’s sliding job approval rating,” Fournier allows, “but the president’s hands-on approach seems a bit too political for some.” (Who is “some”? Don’t ask. Fournier doesn’t tell.) He continues: “In purely political terms, the question is whether Bush can live up to the tough, can-do reputation he cultivated” after 9/11 or “whether he falls short of expectations (expectations that I, Fournier, am now helping to set) and pays a political price …” A political science academic gets the final word, warning that if the recovery doesn’t “go quickly … people will view [Bush’s] involvement cynically.”

Mary Curtius and Edwin Chin of the Los Angeles Times offer readers an “on-the-one-hand-on-the- other-hand” take. Pluses for Bush: some “favorable images of the president” such as from his speech from the Rose Garden yesterday and from his interview on “Good Morning America” today, as well as the fact that Katrina coverage has “displaced” bad news stories from Iraq and “shifted the focus from antiwar protests.” The “political risks” for Bush (and the GOP), according to “political strategists and analysts,” come about if recovery efforts “falter,” if a recession ensues, or “if complaints from some Gulf Coast officials that the federal government underfunded the New Orleans levee system gain credence.” Like Fournier, Curtius and Chin end their piece ominously, with a quote from Keith Ashdown of “congressional watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense”: “Katrina would pose ‘a huge liability …’ if the aftermath ‘isn’t handled perfectly.’”

According to the New York Times’ David Sanger, it’s all about Bush’s ability to multi-task: “The next few weeks will determine whether [Bush] can manage several challenges at once, in the chaos of Iraq and the humanitarian and economic fallout along the Gulf Coast.” Sanger goes on to explain that “success could help [Bush] emerge from a troubled moment in his presidency, when his approval ratings have hit an all-time low” but observes for readers that success “is hardly assured.” Sanger notes that “Mr. Bush’s foreign agenda, especially Iraq” is “inextricably linked … to the issue of how well he manages the federal response [to Katrina].” Peter Baker of the Washington Post also comments that “the latest crisis facing Bush is already converging with the previous two (bad news in Iraq and rising gas prices).”

So, to summarize the conventional wisdom available in this sampling of print media today: Hurricane Katrina presents the president with a difficult test (or a “stiff challenge” per the Associated Press, a “hard new test” says the New York Times, “one of the stiffest leadership tests” and “the next daunting challenge,” per the Washington Post, a “potential political menace,” according to the Los Angeles Times). And, if he handles it well, that will help his standing in the eyes of the public, whereas if he botches the whole thing, why, that could hurt his reputation.

No kidding. Just like working at your office, or ours: Get things done, and good things happen to you; drop every ball handed to you, and the boss just might wonder why she hired you in the first place.

Thank you for that insight, Big Media!

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.