By Maureen Tkacik
The opinions expressed are her own.
There’s a scene in Ray Nagin’s Hurricane Katrina memoir from the Monday night after the storm in which twenty or thirty mysterious security guards, toting three guns apiece, suddenly descend upon the bombed out Hyatt city officials are using as a command center and commence measuring perimeters, laying down wires and barking orders. “We’re here to protect the mayor!” their apparent leader proclaims. “Everyone else leave!”
Nagin watches, “hallucination-like”, as his two preposterously outmanned bodyguards give the guards their best “Oh, hell no” glares, then politely asks the guards: “Who are you guys, and who sent you?” He has well-founded suspicions they are Blackwater mercenaries hired by the local business community, but the leader won’t divulge anything, so he and his staffers just keep asking the same questions of every guard they can corner, until the entire team suddenly vanishes en masse, “Ninja-like, as quickly and quietly as they arrived.”
Of the unnervingly frequent Bush Administration flashbacks I suffered reading Ron Suskind’s Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President, Nagin’s staredown of the elite hired guns is the one Obama never manages to repeat.
Instead the whole saga plays out like a more articulate slow-motion rehash of a memorable passage from an earlier Suskind book, in which an earlier inexperienced president in the afterglow of a crisis-fueled electoral victory listens to his economic advisers plot the next six months of tax breaks and “incentive package” announcements and finally asks, “What are we doing on compassion?”
But Bush was a quicker study than his successor. By the end of Bush’s 2002 meeting with his economic advisers he has mastered the narrative they are concocting: the “spin” that the economy is bad is not “credible” enough to warrant compassion, but it is saddled with uncertainty—a malaise he identifies on his very own without cue as resulting from the twin ills of “SEC overreach” and the threat of Saddam Hussein’s continued rule in Iraq. By contrast, it takes 355 pages for Obama to complete a parallel metamorphosis, from compassion-infused campaigner to unprompted producer of his own brand of Beltway antilogic, by which he informs his advisers in the fall of 2009 he has learned to stop worrying about unemployment rate, since its historical magnitude is merely a rosy indicator of “productivity gains in the economy.”