Saturday, August 04, 2007

Minnesota Bridge Disaster: White House denounces finger-pointing while pointing finger

The White House on the Minneapolis bridge disaster: "This is not the time for finger-pointing, but if it was, we'd point the finger straight at the Minnesota state government."

Aug 3, 5:07 PM EDT
Analysis: New Try for Bush As Comforter


WASHINGTON (AP) -- In times of disaster, presidents are expected to be comforters-in-chief, yet since Hurricane Katrina President Bush has a blemished record in that role.

He reacted quickly to the Minnesota bridge collapse by scheduling a visit, but only after an awkward initial reaction in which the White House emphasized that fixing structural deficiencies was the state's responsibility...

What in the world is the AP writer talking about here? What was the White House’s initial response to the Minneapolis disaster? To learn the answer to that, we have to go to this article, published the day after news of the disaster was broadcast on television:

Aug 2, 5:07 PM EDT
Bush Offers Help Restoring Fallen Bridge

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration said Thursday that structural deficiencies were found two years ago in the highway bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis and it was the state's responsibility to fix them. ("Finger!" "Yes, sir?" "Point!" "Yes, sir! Right away, sir!")

...The Interstate 35W span rated 50 on a scale of 100 for structural stability and was classified as "structurally deficient," which means that there were features of the bridge that needed to be repaired or replaced.

"It doesn't mean that the bridge is unsafe," Transportation Secretary Mary Peters told The Associated Press after touring the site. (Wow! I was looking at the same bridge she was, I saw it on TV, and it looked pretty unsafe to me! I'm not the Transportation Secretary, but I think that a bridge that has cars and trucks plunging off of it into the Mississippi means the bridge is unsafe, no matter what fucking rating they gave it--so, agree to disagree, I guess.)"It could carry a rating of 50 for a number of years without getting substantially worse." (I see. So what you're saying is--we shouldn't focus so much on "that one bad day"...)

...Earlier, at the White House, press secretary Tony Snow said while the inspection didn't indicate the bridge was at risk of failing, "if an inspection report identifies deficiencies, the state is responsible for taking corrective actions..."

(See how the spin reflex at the White House kicks in instantly, even when allowing the spin reflex to engage makes them look like politicized assholes? They’re not even done pulling the bodies out and the White House sends out its first response team--and its first response is to tell the public “it’s not our fault, it’s their fault.” At the same time, media and bloggers here in Minnesota are getting yelled at for “politicizing” the disaster—as if no one in the Democratic Party had proposed significant repairs to infrastructure BEFORE that bridge collapsed.)

Ronald Reagan, king of photo ops, comes to mind. He knew how to spin a disaster; he could turn someone else’s tragedy into political gold, for his own benefit. Remember how he and Nancy comforted the families of the Challenger disaster in 1986? Just imagine if Reagan had handled that tragedy the same way the Bush White House is handling this one:

Aide: Mr. President, these are the surviving family members of the Challenger crew.
Reagan: Thank you. (to families) First—and let’s make this crystal clear from the get-go-It’s not my fault.
Widow: Mr. President—
Reagan: Are you trying to say that it IS my fault? That’s really low, you know that? Now is not the time for finger-pointing. Are you really so insensitive to this tragedy that you’re jumping right into “the blame game”?
Widow: Why, no, Mr. President, I was just going to say that—
Reagan: It was NASA's fault! NOT MINE! I don’t have anything to do with the day-to-day operations of NASA, you know as well as I do that that’s not our responsibility at the White House—
Widow: I know that—
Reagan: You better know it! We just sign the checks, I think it’s ridiculous for you to insinuate that I should have been down there on the launch platform, checking the seals on O-rings or whatever—
Widow: (crying) Please, Mr. President—I know that you don’t bear any responsibility for this awful tragedy—
Reagan: (pretending to be deaf) Come again?
Widow: I said “I know you don’t bear any responsibility for this awful disaster—“
Reagan: (to cameraman) Did you get that? Good, we’ll edit out the rest, later. (moves on, sees a young boy) Well, young man, you look awfully upset about something.
Boy: M-m-y father just died—
Reagan: And that’s my fault? That’s NASA’s department, son. It’s not a White House responsibility.
Boy: But they said you might come to the cemetery and—
Reagan: Cemetery? What are you trying to pull here, kid? Are you trying to trying to make some bizarre connection between this and my visit to Bitburg to lay a wreath on the grave of those Nazis?
Widow: You’re scaring him!
Nancy: Take it down a notch, Ronnie—
Reagan: Get off my goddam back, Mommy! I’m not gonna let some punk drag Nazis into this incident. That’s a cheap shot, saying I’m pro-Nazi. (to rest of the families) What is wrong with you people? Don’t you have any feelings? You’ve just lost your husbands and fathers and I don’t know what else, and here you are trying to spin this into some kind of anti-White House, “down with conservatives” thing!
(The families burst into sobs and uncontrollable tears.)
Reagan: That’s right, be ashamed of yourselves! You should be. I was gonna give each and every one of you a hug and say some comforting words, but these two (points to Widow and Boy) have ruined it for everyone. C’mon, Nancy, let’s go. I don’t have to stay here and take this shit. (to Aide) And you—tell the Press Secretary to announce that our official response to this disaster is “this was not our fault, it’s someone else’s fault but not ours.”



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