THE BLOG
09/02/2005 09:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bill Clinton, Suck-Up-in-Chief

What the hell was Bill Clinton thinking, standing there next to President Bush and providing verbal cover for the administration's ludicrous claims that the problems plaguing New Orleans were unforeseeable?

He even defended the administration's catastrophic response to Katrina. When asked on CNN whether the federal response was fast enough, Clinton bobbed, weaved, and fell back on this utterly absurd claim: "You and I are not in a position to make any judgment because we weren't there." C'mon, Bill, "...we weren't there"? I know this sucking up business is hard, but you've got to do better than that.

This disaster has been extraordinarily revealing, exposing not only Bush's failure of leadership, and the deadly consequences of his distorted priorities but also the many, many years of political neglect of the poor and the needy by both political parties. You couldn't get a much clearer illustration of the myriad ways that we have indeed become Two Nations than the stories and pictures coming out of New Orleans this week. Not too many Bush Pioneers were forced to wallow in their own feces at the Superdome.

But it's mighty hard to have a teachable moment when you have Bill Clinton, still the reigning symbol of the Democratic Party, failing to connect the dots between the Bush administration's chronic abandonment of the poor and its recent abandonment of the poor in the Big Easy -- as well as the dots between the war in Iraq and the undermining of our security here at home. And as if all this wasn't enough, there he was defending the indefensible. "I'm telling you," he said in a White House sit-down with CNN (along with Bush, Sr.), "nobody thought this was going to happen like this...they had problems they never could have foreseen." Which is absolutely, incontrovertibly, and provably untrue (many, many times over). And he is too smart not to know it.

Instead of acting like a Bush lapdog and gratefully accepting his role as Co-Disaster-Fund-Raiser-in-Chief, imagine the impact Clinton would have had if he had stepped up and made the connection between the increase in poverty and the stagnation in incomes for the fifth straight year and the post-storm suffering among the poor in New Orleans. Or imagine if he had spoken out about how the GOP's beloved new bankruptcy bill is going to further the misery of those ruined by Hurricane Katrina.

Chances to radically shift the national debate, alter the nation's perspective, and rearrange our priorities don't come along very often. President Bush squandered the teachable moment provided by 9/11, calling us not to national service but to shopping. Bill Clinton is now making it harder to use the current disaster as a wake-up call about the pent-up anger bubbling just beneath the surface of our country, about the Other America largely hidden from view, and about the urgent need to redefine national security.

Even devoted Clintonites are scratching their heads and wondering what has happened to the man once lauded as "the first black president." Is his need to be a part of this country's wealth and power establishment so great that it blinds him to reality? Is his need to be fawned over so desperate that he has forgotten how to speak the truth?

Sadly, Clinton has been remarkably consistent when it comes to sucking up to Bush -- offering his support on everything from the invasion of Iraq ("I have repeatedly defended President Bush against the left on Iraq," he told Time last summer) to Bush's infamous phony State of the Union claims about Saddam attempting to acquire uranium ("You know, everybody makes mistakes when they are president," he told Larry King sympathetically. "I mean, you can't make as many calls as you have to make without messing up once in a while.")

And now providing cover for George W. Bush and undermining this teachable moment. Again I ask: What the hell is he thinking?