The Incomplete Man
This article on Junior in today's Wapo is almost sad. In fact, I'm starting to get worried that the pity factor is going to start boosting his ratings. After years of media worship in which the man was often compared (with a straight face!) to Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln, even I can't help but be a bit disoriented when I see things like this in print:
These are the questions of a president who has endured the most drastic political collapse in a generation...
No modern president has experienced such a sustained rejection by the American public.
The picture of poor George floudering around trying to get his bearings is almost poignant. And then we come back to reality:
In public and in private, according to intimates, he exhibits an inexorable upbeat energy that defies the political storms. Even when he convenes philosophical discussions with scholars, he avoids second-guessing his actions. He still acts as if he were master of the universe, even if the rest of Washington no longer sees him that way.
"You don't get any feeling of somebody crouching down in the bunker," said Irwin M. Stelzer, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who was part of one group of scholars who met with Bush. "This is either extraordinary self-confidence or out of touch with reality. I can't tell you which."
I can. It's both. The latter leads to the former.
The piece confirms what I've been speculating about for the last year --- he literally believes that history will vindicate him after he's dead:
Bush has virtually given up on winning converts while in office and instead is counting on vindication after he is dead. "He almost has . . . a sense of fatalism," said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who recently spent a day traveling with Bush. "All he can do is do his best, and 100 years from now people will decide if he was right or wrong. It doesn't seem to be a false, macho pride or living in your own world. I find him to be amazingly calm."
I don't think "fatalism" is something we can countenance in a political leader. In fact, it's downright scary. I have believed for a long time that Bush thinks all these troubles will be "a comma" in his legacy -- that somewhere down the road he will be credited with being a great president --- like Give 'em Hell Harry and Churchill. The problem is that it's the kind of fantasy that leads puny intellects to be easily brainwashed by smart manipulators into doing reckless things, like attacking Iran, for instance. A hundred years from now everyone will look back on those "birth pangs" and be grateful, right?
And for all of his alleged soul searching, he hasn't taken action to actually change anything --- he's just trying to understand why people no longer see him as the hero he really believed he was during those heady days of hyped up bullhorns and codpieces. He still adheres religiously to his (very light) schedule, he refuses to cut Gonzales loose when everyone knows he's dragging him down, and although he's allegedly obsessed with Iraq, he stubbornly refuses to admit that everything he's done there has turned out badly.
With his presidency crumbling around him, he still hasn't taken charge:
Yet Bush can seem disengaged. When he flew to New York to visit a Harlem school and promote his education program, he brought along New York congressmen on Air Force One, including Democrat Charles B. Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The White House was in the midst of tough negotiations with Rangel over trade pacts. But Bush did not try to cut a deal with Rangel, chatting instead about baseball. "He talked a lot about the Rangers," Rangel said. "I didn't know what the hell he was talking about."
I doubt that he even knew there was a trade pact or that it was being negotiated. He still doesn't see such trivia as being his job. He's the Commander in Chief, the Decider. When the deal is done and Dick slips it under his pen for signature, then he'll "decide" whether to sign it.
And for all of his alleged soul searching about why the world doesn't like him, he's still the arrogant, self-centered fool we've always known. This is almost unbelievable to me:
Still, that trip demonstrated that Bush cannot escape his burdens. King, the GOP congressman, introduced him backstage to a soldier injured in one eye. Bush teared up and asked the young man to take off his dark glasses so he could see the wound, King recalled. "Human instinct is when someone has a serious injury to look the other way," King said. "He actually asked him to take them off. He actually touched the eye a little. It was almost as if he felt he had to confront it."
Moving, isn't it? He needed to actually see the wound and touch it --- the way six year olds do --- in order to understand it. And like some sort of religious figure or demi-God, in doing that he apparently "became" that wounded man:
As they headed back to Washington a few hours later, with the televisions aboard Air Force One tuned to the New York Mets game, King mused that Bush must be feeling the weight of his office.
"My wife loves you, but she doesn't know how you don't wake up every morning and say, 'I've had it. I'm out of here,' " King told him.
"She thinks that?" Bush replied. "Get her on the phone."
King dialed but got voice mail. Bush left a message: "I'm doing okay. Don't worry about me."
That he could have that moment with a soldier who lost his eye and then immediately turn around and reassure the wife of a supporter that she needn't worry about him, that he's doing ok, is mind boggling. He honestly seems to think he's a wounded soldier himself, bravely getting up every day to face the enemy's fire. No shame, no guilt, no conscience, no understanding that he does not have the right to even address such concerns or "reassure" anyone about his own state of health or mind as long as men and women are coming home from his misbegotten war without their eyes!
There's something unformed and incomplete about this man, even after sixty years on the planet and over six years as president of the most powerful nation on earth. He's missing something essential in his psyche.
Regarding Bush's fatalism, in other news, the administration is cranking up a propaganda campaign essentially accusing Iran of declaring war on the United States. Let's hope he hasn't decided that future historians need another reason to place him among the greats a hundred years from now ...
Update II: Out Of It: Trust Perlstein to see the perfect historical parallel.