Recurring Behavior

SEPTEMBER 14, 2001

Over now familiar refrains of "that's unreal," and "I can't believe it," and pregnant moans of "wow," a spectacle of a different kind captured unblinking New Yorkers yesterday afternoon. Out of Manhattan's Union Square came a welcome and commanding sight: former President Bill Clinton, surrounded by a growing mass of people.

Shortly after 4 p.m. Clinton walked south on University Place, starting at 14th Street. He immediately drew a crowd, most of whom just happened to be walking by. Others emerged from stores and apartments. Many snapped pictures or waved flags in a spontaneous moment of patriotism and giddiness over a celebrity. For his part, Clinton restrained himself from returning smiles, greeting people instead with earnest expressions of concern.


Many said Clinton's short appearance both magnified and made up for what they called President George W. Bush's shortcomings during this crisis. The White House announced that the president would visit New York, for the first time, today.

"So far he has not been a comforting presence," said Emily Vacchiano, 26, who lives in SoHo. "He has not conveyed compassion or strength. Just the sight of him [Clinton] cheered everyone up today."

Michael Siller, 38, also of Manhattan said, "I didn't vote for Clinton but at least I always felt he was in charge. That feeling has been missing here."

DECEMBER 29, 2004

President Bush said Wednesday that he has formed an international coalition to respond to the massive tsunami disaster along coastlines of the Indian Ocean.

The president interrupted his vacation at his Texas ranch to speak with reporters for the first time since Sunday's earthquake-triggered waves killed tens of thousands of people.


This time, Bush has been just as flatfooted. He couldn't seem to break off his schedule in San Diego, where he was commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory over Japan, while New Orleans filled like a bathtub. His remarks to the country from the Rose Garden yesterday about the Katrina disaster seemed oddly terse; his litany of aid meaningless without context. Sending five million military MRE meals sounded impressive until you realized there may be a million American refugees at this point. Does that mean we're only handing out five meals per person? And his interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News seemed weirdly out of touch. His smirk came back; he stumbled into jargon like SPRo, the nickname for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and said things that seemed patently out of touch, including the now-infamous remark that no one could have foreseen the levee breaking. His inability to see any moral distinction between those who steal water and those who loot TV sets seemed odd—and at odds with local politicians like New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. Then where was the call for sacrifice? While southern governors like Georgia Republican Sonny Perdue worried publicly about gas shortfalls as soon as this weekend and begged for conservation, Bush seemed to do so only as an afterthought.

Bush's behavior shouldn't surprise anyone anymore. It's only stunning that he keeps getting away with it.

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