Thursday, September 08, 2005 | As a leader, George W. Bush would make a good mayor of San Diego. For Bush, the disaster was not a pension fund, but a hurricane. The result was the same.

Imagine if, on Tuesday, Aug. 30, George W. Bush had called San Diego to say, “I know I am supposed to make a speech out there, but I am going to cancel it, because I have to go to New Orleans.”

The Secret Service would have gone nuts. But they could have responded, because he is the president, and he is their job.

The presidential schedule would have been blown all to hell, plans made months before now neutralized, and some of the plans may have been important and hard to put on hold.

But he is the president, and it is his decision, and presidents just shrug when they have to make tough decisions and say something self-effacing like, “Hey, it’s my job.” What was the sign Harry Truman kept on his desk? “The Buck Stops Here.”

So Bush picks up the intercom and tells the pilot of Air Force One, “Get this thing on the ground at Baton Rouge as soon as you can.” Then he gets on the phone to military and National Guard units in the Texas-Louisiana-Mississippi area and tells them to mobilize and meet him in Baton Rouge with all the emergency equipment and medical supplies they can haul. Then he calls the governor of Louisiana and says, “Meet me at the airport.” He calls the New Orleans mayor and says, “Meet us at the Convention Center.”

He lands at Baton Rouge and walks to the first National Guard truck that he sees. He climbs in, tells the driver, “Let’s go to New Orleans.” He leans out the window of the truck and yells to the governor, “Follow me.” She jumps back in her limo and falls in line. The Secret Service guys wet their pants and jump in the back of Bush’s truck and commandeer two more. President Bush will be the safest man in New Orleans, La.

An hour later the president, the governor and the mayor are studying the rising waters and deciding what to do. The president gets on the phone and calls the Air Force. “Air drops, by noon tomorrow, or there will be hell to pay.” The Coast Guard, Army and Marines: “Helicopters, by sunup. Rescue missions. Got it?”

The Superdome and Convention Center are designated evacuee centers. The president gives a short television interview in front of the Superdome. His advisors, aghast two hours ago, are starting to see some good in this.

Back to Baton Rouge. The first military equipment is arriving. The president asks the governor to commandeer food and water from area wholesalers and get it loaded into all the 18-wheelers she can find.

Eleven p.m. Tuesday. The convoy is assembled and ready to roll. The president climbs into the lead truck and commands, “Let’s go.” A third of the nation has stayed up to watch this live on television. Shortly after midnight, the convoy reaches New Orleans and goes about its mission.

Would that have been cool, or what? Even Wednesday, flying back to Washington, surveying the chaos from 1,700 feet in Air Force One, if the president had been seized by a stroke of leadership, and told the pilot: “Put this thing down right now at Baton Rouge.”

We would be living in a different country today.

Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com.

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