A graceless administration

Arrogance and gracelessness seem to be on the minimum-qualifications list for getting work in the Bush administration. Think of the arrogance it took for Dick Cheney and his band to routinely ignore intelligence reports that failed to bolster their agenda. Think of Donald Rumsfeld overruling the generals on the matter of troop levels required to maintain order in post-war Iraq. Think of Michael Brown, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, writing those memos about his wardrobe while people in New Orleans were dying in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And think of Bush himself regularly explaining things he clearly doesn’t understand in garbled language.

Each news cycle brings fresh examples of outrageous hubris. It’s no longer surprising when our leaders show disdain for world opinion—as in the initial rejection of offers of aid from other countries after the hurricanes, and other such acts of imperial hauteur.

But a recent event revealed the gracelessness of Bush administration functionaries with special clarity. Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, paid a visit to the Empress Hotel in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. The Empress Hotel is the flagship of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Direct Access program to fight homelessness in the city. In its first year of operation, the Empress Hotel has successfully created new lives for 90 percent of its residents, an unheard of record of success at getting homeless people off the streets and into the kinds of care that frees them of addictions or the torments of mental illness. Prince Charles and Camilla visited two of the residents of the hotel, chatting comfortably for more than a half-hour. In his own country, Prince Charles has pioneered programs for the homeless, and the prince’s visit to the Empress Hotel was in marked contrast to the phony photo ops that have become the staple of American politicians.

Attaching himself to the prince’s visit was Philip Mangano, the Bush administration’s homelessness czar. After the royal visit was over, Mangano was quoted as saying, “The British … haven’t done as much supportive housing like this. … We’ve pioneered it, and they can learn from us.”

Forget for a moment that the Direct Access to Housing Program is the work of a Democrat mayor in a city the Republicans have treated like a foreign nation. Forget that it was Prince Charles, himself, who helped enact the British “Rough Sleepers Initiative” that reduced his country’s homeless population by two-thirds during the past five years. Forget about the fact that the Bush administration has shown little interest in the subject of homelessness.

Forget all of that and then think about the gracelessness of a “homelessness czar” who takes credit for a program he had nothing to do with.

It takes a Bush-league bureaucrat to be that audaciously arrogant and graceless.