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Mar 04, 2007

The Compassion Gulf


"We can never replace lives, and we can't heal hearts, except through prayer. And I know -- I want the students to know, and the families to know that there's a lot of people praying for them."

--White House photo caption.  President surveying tornado damage.  Alabama, March 3, 2007.

Of course, you saw this.  And this.  Well, yesterday, the White House visually completed the triad.

The question is, how could the Administration be so blind -- or tone-deaf -- to actually publish an image this completely callous?  Especially when its explicit aim, as Bush saccharinely telegraphs (in a companion photo caption), is to WANT US TO KNOW that he gives a shit.

The attire only drives home the emotional contrast -- Bush dressed in black; his sure-to-become-infamous phone conversation complemented by a grateful and radiant black tornado victim in pure white.  And then, there's the scale.  I reduced the pic considerably.  The version above is 450 pixels high, while the White House version -- which would probably double the length of this post -- runs an eye-popping 800 pixels.

Update: 1:47pm EST.  Thanks to BAGreaders for pointing out that this is the woman's phone.  According to AP, the woman's name is Benita Fletcher, who called her boyfriend, then handed the phone to the president.

It's interesting, however, given the curious visual, why the White House caption offers no context.  It reads:

President George W. Bush visits with residents in Americus, Ga., March 3, 2007. The President toured tornado-damaged areas in Alabama and Georgia.

By failing to explain the photo, the White House leaves the viewer to assume.  Not that this Administration ever feels a responsibility to inform anybody about anything, but it almost seems like an intentional omission.

Just as The BAG assumed the worst (Bush talking to Rove about how this trip might undo the Katrina debacle; or a quick check with Laura about flying out before lunch), it's possible the White House looked at this image -- especially, posted as large as this -- as a gift.

But what, specifically, was the Administration hoping we might see?

Maybe, the love of a people for its leader.  Maybe so great a compassion for the afflicted that the President, Benita and her boyfriend could immediately bond.  Maybe such harmony, the President might as well be black and Benita white.

(image: Paul Morse/White House. March 3, 2007. Americus, Ga.


i am not a bush fan, but how do you know the phone is not the woman's, and the president is not talking to one of her relatives? maybe she asked him to get on to the phone with one of her loved ones, in which case this is actually a much more sincere and touching scene

Yes Bill, you know the more I think about it, maybe Bush's entire incompetent,corrupt, and authoritarian government these past 6 years is just a set up for a great final act. Redemption, Hollywood style. Bush, overcome with emotion, having encountered a near death experience (choking on pork rhine while driving his pick up truck) morphs into a second coming of Lincoln. We all feel great about America. The world feels great about America. Our enemies,so overwhelmed by the most startling metamorphosis since Saul's on the road to Damascus, renounce their anger towards us, and lay down their arms. And in fact, we all get together and head to Darfur to put end to the genocide there. And then come back and have the greatest July 4th celebration of all time.

The photo of President Bush with the tornado victim while receiving a telephone call brought to mind the scene in "Apocalypse Now!" where Lt. Col. Kilgore is seemingly concerned about the abuse of a wounded Viet Cong prisoner, and suddenly gets called away to talk with Lance, the famous surfer.

With all funding for disaster relief having been diverted to help finance the Iraq troop surge, the president did the next best thing for tornado victims by ordering a pizza...

It's always striking to me how little Dubya is actually involved with other people.

And it's insane to me how screwed up New Orleans still is. We ought to be learning from these disasters how to build more strongly and manage disaster recovery better. Instead, we get photo shoots. Yuck.

"can ya feel me now?"

Bill is correct. I saw the video of this on tv news- it was the girl's phone, and he did take it and say something like "guess who". One wonders if the person on the other end threw the phone at the wall after having Bush's voice fed directly into his or her ear.

Of course it was the usual Bush stunt- pretending to be that real guy people want to have a beer with that won him so many votes. (Not enough to win, but that's another story.) The dwindling few who still believe that BS don't realize he takes his beer with a blood chaser.

i think tha Bag is commenting on the image and the narrative contained in the released and approved image.

"The question is, how could the Administration be so blind -- or tone-deaf -- to actually publish an image this complete callous?"

so comments on whose fone it is don't really affect that discussion.

"Excuse me, Dad[*], I'll have to call you back...yeah, I know it can't wait, but the camera's running and this gal won't leave me alone."

[*] The Departed reference.

Her facial expression looks more like a grimace than a joyful smile. He doesn't seem that engaged to me. The feeling I get is one of distance, but certainly Bush is comfortable receiving hugs and adulation. He never gives it though does he? In fact, he expects and demands it. That is why he took the phone from her in the first place. Just as in his surprise appearance visiting the troops in Iraq over thanksgiving, Bush like to be on top.

Or in other words, Bush never relates to others as "I - Thou". It's never an equal relationship. Think about it, are there other contexts outside of disasters where Bush is willing to mix with the little people? Where are those pictures? The only other time Bush is willing to meet with common folk is when they are carefully screened and obsessively controlled and scripted.

Wow. Context is everything. At first I thought, where is he, Louisiana? He finally cares? And then the article explains he's in Alabama.

Then next I'm thinking that he's taking charge, calling someone to help the woman, who hugs him gratefully. It's like a 911 moment in New York, complete with windbreaker.

But then the context...nope, we learn it's the GIRL'S PHONE, and he's playing the egotistical 12 year old president again. It's a stunt, after all.

But if that's the case, and he's playing the "guess who" game on the phone with boyfriend, then why isn't he smiling that frat smile we know so well? Where's the smirk?

No smile, no smirk?

No, instead there is a concerned, determined, focused look, complete with furrowed brow. It certainly looks like he's DOING SOMETHING, doesn't it? And that's why this photo works.

You'll notice that most of the staged photos the WH hands out all have the same formula: A resolute and determined Bush, compassionately embracing the adoring populace, (usually female, but black and female are bonus points).

Most of the photos also seems to convey a Jesus-like quality, with people flocking to him for strength and advice. Bush is always taller in these types of photos.

Before we trash Bush too much for the photo -- these kinds of compassion-shots likely date back to the Roman empire. Certainly, Clinton wielded this tool like a weapon, with grand results. And photo that will follow Bush forever in encyclopedia entries -- regardless what the rest of the entry reads.

Surely, the staff is looking for its Bullhorn moment. Who wouldn't view something like this as an opportunity for a leader currently reviled for being out of touch. There is very little space, historically, between the Bullhorn and this photo -- I'm sure Bush's handlers are gunning for that.

And for that, I don't think the cellphone is a faux-pas -- and as a symbol of his arrogance it's more smoke than fire. I assumed it was her phone from the start.

I think the real message from it is that although its a fine "leader-daddy" photo, (Maybe even above average. He even looks a little cute.) that's still -- just like the rubble photo -- is not enough to wipe away one's contempt for Bush. No one who really remembers Katrina will just think of the bullhorn moment -- or any attempts at a new one -- again.

Hmmm What would Condi say?

The WH is going for the "Ebony and Ivory" vibe -- erroneously believing that liberals and progressives will fall for it. Rove is slipping.

Sure, Clinton had photos like this taken of him. The difference was that he actually did something to help the people he was being photographed with.

Also, "Bush" and "sincere" just don't credibly mix.

why are these people smiling ?

Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins : “NOW IN THESE DREAD LATTER DAYS of the old violent beloved U.S.A. and of the Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world I came to myself in a grove of young pines and the question came to me:

has it happened at last?

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