ROME — As Jacques Chirac droned on and on beneath the capering sylphides
at Élysée Palace on Monday,
orating about consequences and consultations, dialogues and divergences, President Bush's face
transparently — and hilariously — reflected his thoughts. (And mine.)
There may as well have been a bubble over W.'s head with the words "What
Or, since we were in Paris, "What a windbaguette."
And when Mr. Bush got irritated and called an NBC reporter a pretentious
"intercontinental" for asking
the French president a question in French, and then noted that his pal Jacques was "always saying that the
food here is fantastic, and I'm going to give him a chance to show me tonight," the bubble appeared over
Mr. Chirac's head just as clearly. "Quel hick," the French president's expression murmured.
Mr. Bush's trip was designed to soothe anxious allies by showing that
the U.S. is not a warmongering,
pollution-spewing, unfree-trading, terrorist-obsessing bully. Or at least to show that the U.S. will consult with
the Europeans while it continues to be a warmongering, pollution-spewing, unfree-trading, terrorist-obsessing bully.
But the sojourn has not been the sop the White House had hoped for; rather, it has reinforced stereotypes on
both sides of the Atlantic. Parisians were indifferent to the president's arrival, and a few gave his motorcade
the intercontinental finger of disapproval, as had some Berliners.
The French actually seemed pleased when Mr. Bush played up his own political
caricature, acting like a rodeo
rider in King Louis's court, because it allowed them to indulge in their own favorite stereotypical behavior: looking
down their Gallic noses at Americans.
"Bush is so . . . Texan," a French journalist told me with a grimace at the press conference.
The only one who did not typecast himself was the latest pledge to the
NATO fraternity. President Vladimir Putin
banged no shoes and threw no drunken fits. The clever, cold-eyed Russian leader even began to purloin some of
Mr. Bush's trademark moves for himself. After watching him holding hands with Laura at the museum, Mr. Putin
grabbed his surprised wife's hand.
He also began adopting Mr. Bush's jocular shtick. At the summit here
yesterday, Mr. Putin dryly suggested that
the NATO headquarters in Brussels be renamed: "We should call ourselves the House of the Soviets."
Naturellement, the Frenchies were both jealous and contemptuous of Mr.
Bush's buddy act with Mr. Putin, sniffing
that the American was getting played by the former K.G.B. chief in a roundelay called "The snoop and the dupe."
After Bill Clinton beat George Bush Sr., 41's press secretary, Marlin
Fitzwater, told me that perhaps the patrician
from Greenwich with the pork-rind facade should not have strained to straddle two worlds. "Maybe it would have
been better to be all Eastern elite or all Texas populist," Mr. Fitzwater mused.
So now comes the son, who so desperately wants to be all-Texas-all-the-time
that he overdoes the anti-elitist,
After NBC's David Gregory asked Mr. Chirac, who speaks English, in French
if he would like to comment on a
question he'd asked Mr. Bush about Europe's view of America as imperious, Mr. Bush had a petit fit.
"Very good, the guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he's intercontinental,"
he said sarcastically as a
bemused Mr. Chirac looked on. "I'm impressed. Que bueno. Now I'm literate in two languages." Mr. Bush did not
care that foreign reporters usually ask him questions in English, or that he often sprinkles Spanish into his speeches
with Hispanic groups.
He felt he was being mocked or tricked in some way, even though the
question wasn't even directed at him. He
was tired and he let his famously thin skin show too easily.
There is something bizarre about watching an Andover-, Yale- and Harvard-educated
president, the grandson of
an elegant Connecticut senator and the son of a gracious internationalist president, have a hissy fit because a
reporter asks a legitimate question about European angst and talks to a Frenchman in French.
W.'s anti-elitism is sometimes refreshing, but does he have to carry
it around all the time? He shouldn't be forced
to be a chip off the old block, but he should lose the chip on his shoulder.