For the detail oriented, the Center for Cooperative Research put together a chronology of Bush’s movements on 9/11. (Via the Dead Parrots.) I can’t get very upset about Bush going in and doing his photo op — I know that on that day it took a while for me to react. It was, after all, incredibly shocking. What does strike me as strange is the reaction of the Secret Service. As is pointed out in the timeline, evacuating Bush should have been as high a priority as evacuating Cheney.
Also, of course, the rewriting of history bears examination. But that’s a partisan issue; everyone rewrites history.
I don’t believe, and it is not my experience, that being in shock is any reason for a qualified leader to not respond to a situation. The only excuse I can imagine for the behavior described in the timeline is an absolute aversion to an appearance of panic – but considering that the eventual carefully considered, reasoned response was what appeared to be a panicked cross-country flight, I have a hard time putting stock in that theory. I’m open to suggestions as to how Bush’s response was useful, but I’m not willing to accept that it was acceptable not to attempt a useful response.
Note that the cross-country flight was not in the public eye, whereas there were cameras on him in Florida. My guess is that his political handlers pushed to keep to the photo op schedule and controlled the flow of information a bit. The incompetence, in my book, was on the part of the Secret Service.