Throughout his nearly five years in office, Mr. Bush has resisted publicly acknowledging mistakes or shortcomings, and his willingness in this case to edge up to a buck-stops-here statement, however conditional, was evidence of how shaken his presidency has been by the political fallout from the government's handling of the storm.
It also set the stage for a White House effort to pivot from dealing with urgent rescue and relief efforts to setting out a vision of how the federal government could help rebuild devastated communities and re-establish Mr. Bush's image as a leader.
Re-establishing his image as a leader. Meaning what, exactly? Another carrier landing? More brush clearin'? Some of his patented gut-trusting, chatter-ignorin', jes' folks doggedness?
George W. Bush was never a leader; he's never projected the image of one except among those desperate to believe we had one or those whose definition of leadership is "someone I agree with". He flew away from Washington on 9/11, resurfaced three days later with a bullhorn and a retired firefighter, who just happened to be a Republican his media handlers had conjured up, and he gave a halftime locker room pep talk the country went ga-ga over, not because of his "leadership" but because of its fears. In the intervening four years he's avoided press conferences like they were anthrax (even though he's one of the few we found some Cipro for and the toughest question he's likely to face from the Gaggle is "How hot is the barbecue sauce?"). He's spoken to no crowd that wasn't hand-selected and searched ahead of time. The first time the man ever laid eyes on a Democrat who hadn't been elected to something was probably on the roof of a house in the Ninth Ward when he flew over it.
Leadership is now defined by our major news dailies by whether Kit Seelye likes your tie. A leader is a guy who hires the right PR firm to convince the public that a turd dipped in sugar is a Tootsie Roll.