"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." Theodore Roosevelt
Thus has George Bush become the Archbishop of Washington even as his aura as lord protector slides into the putrid black lagoon, bobbing with cadavers and slick with oil, that has swallowed New Orleans. No doubt the born-again president is himself sincere about invoking the Almighty. But you can hear the muttered advice in the White House: Mr President, we were in trouble after 9/11; the unfortunate episode of the schoolroom, My Little Goat and all that. But do what you did then; set yourself once more at the centre of the nation; go to the epicentre of the horror and embrace its heroes; make yourself the country's patriotic invigorator and all may yet be well.
So this weekend it was predictable that the president would shamelessly invoke the spirit of 9/11 to cover his shamefully exposed rear end - "resolve of nation ... defend freedom ... rebuild wounded city ... care for our neighbours". But comparisons with 9/11 - the fourth anniversary of which was marked in New York yesterday - will only serve now to reinforce the differences between what the two calamities said about America, and especially about those entrusted with its government. The carnage of 9/11 generated an intense surge of patriotic solidarity, even with America's Babylon, a city scandalously and notoriously indifferent to Heartland values. This was because the mass murders had been committed by people who defined foreignness: theocratic nihilists who equated pluralist democracy with depravity. A hard-ass city supposedly abandoned to the most brutal forms of aggressive individualism (a fiction it liked to cultivate) showed instead the face of American mutualism as volunteers poured into the smouldering toxic crater. Blood and food donations piled up and a mayor disregarded his personal safety to be where he had to be, in the thick of the inferno; his daily press conferences astoundingly bullshit-free, unafraid of bearing bad news; treating his fellow-citizens, mirabile dictu, like grown-ups.