09/16/2005 12:27 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bush's Speech: Strong But Hard to Trust

There is a great American tradition. We gather around the fireplace, the radio, the TV, the computer -- even that patch of concrete in Times Square -- in times of crisis to listen to our president speak. Even if we disagree with most of the things the president has done, we join together to listen in that quiet grasp of sorrow.

We listen to remember those who are gone and those who still struggle. We listen for a way out of sorrow's clutch. We listen for hope. We listen for ideas. And we listen to find out if this is, yet again, another moment when disgust and disappointment are warranted.

But part of me -- a true sucker for a great speech -- didn't even want to listen to the president tonight. Sometimes, you just get tired of all those "words, words, words." There were so many words and so little meaning coming from Judge John Roberts. There were those empty prebuttals about the president's speech that just filled the dead air and made Democrats look even smaller. It's just hard to want to tune in when everyone's words make you want to tune out and watch Entertainment Tonight.

Part of me just wanted to keep reading the president's mini-speech he wrote at the UN, "I think I may need a bathroom break. Is this possible?" One reason is, yes, I am a huge fan of scatological humor and any presidential or political address that contains the line "We need to do our duty" is a winner in my book.

Also, it seemed likely that those words would carry more truth in their brevity, than a 20-minute address in a majestic place in the shadow of a statue that reads, "The union must and shall be preserved."

It is hard to find that will to listen when time after time, the follow through of our leaders has, well, fallen apart.

Doubt just takes over even though I know that some people inside that administration have hearts that are as deep and wide as the Mississippi. They believe in the good of the government and in President Kennedy's statement that "here on earth God's work must truly be our own." They don't want anyone to be left behind. They don't want anyone to go to bed hungry. They don't want moms and dads living in Houston while their sons and daughters go to school in Memphis as their house rots in New Orleans. Those good and decent men and women who work hard know that out of the ruins could be the moment we turn the tide on one of history's greatest enemies -- poverty.

As a Democrat, I know I am not supposed to say that -- that there are good people in the White House, working hard on a great cause. I know that I am supposed to view all things through that cynical prism of "Hate Bush." But as a wise friend once reminded me, "No one is all bad or all good."

And so once again, the tradition takes hold and it was time to listen.

It was a strong speech. Despite those certain things that were left out: a call for sacrifice, how we're going to pay for all of this, and the need for an independent commission, it was the kind of speech that can pull us forward so that America and the Gulf Coast can reach that "second line."

It is remarkable that a Republican president has proposed a massive public works project coupled with a new purpose to fight poverty at home and abroad. It makes me wish that someone from the Democratic side had said some of those things two weeks ago -- proposed those ideas and showed vision and leadership when there was such a void.

But it was President Bush who reminded us of where we've been so that we could rebuild.

"In the life of this nation, we have often been reminded that nature is an awesome force, and that all life is fragile. We are the heirs of men and women who lived through those first terrible winters at Jamestown and Plymouth ... who rebuilt Chicago after a great fire, and San Francisco after a great earthquake ... who reclaimed the prairie from the dust bowl of the 1930s. Every time, the people of this land have come back from fire, flood, and storm to build anew -- and to build better than what we had before. Americans have never left our destiny to the whims of nature -- and we will not start now."

Our destiny is still cloudy, but the president has proposed a hopeful new path. But just as history reminds us of our determination and spirit to rebuild, it, also, reminds us that sometimes what this administration says isn't exactly what this administration does.

This speech mattered and the words could pull this country forward if we wanted them to -- if we trusted that once again, the follow-through wouldn't fall apart. They won't because we've been let down too many times before.