I received an email before the news conference
from as rock-ribbed a Republican as you can find,
a Georgia woman (middle-aged, entrepreneurial)
who'd previously supported him. She said she'd had it.
"I don't believe a word that comes out of his
mouth." I was startled by her vehemence only because she is,
as I said, rock-ribbed. Her email reminded me
of another, one a friend received some months ago:
"I took the W off my car today," it said on the
subject line. ...
As I watched the news conference, it occurred
to me that one of the things that might leave people feeling
somewhat disoriented is the president's seemingly
effortless high spirits. He's in a good mood. There was
the usual teasing, the partly aggressive, partly
joshing humor, the certitude. He doesn't seem to be suffering,
which is jarring. Presidents in great enterprises
that are going badly suffer: Lincoln, LBJ with his head in his hands.
Why doesn't Mr. Bush? Every major domestic initiative
of his second term has been ill thought through and
ended in failure. His Iraq leadership has failed.
His standing is lower than any previous president's since
polling began. He's in a good mood. Discuss.
Is it defiance? Denial? Is it that he's right
and you're wrong, which is your problem? Is he faking a certain
steely good cheer to show his foes from Washington
to Baghdad that the American president is neither
beaten nor bowed? Fair enough: Presidents can't
sit around and moan. But it doesn't look like an act.
People would feel better to know his lack of
success sometimes gets to him. It gets to them.
His stock answer is that of course he feels the
sadness of the families who've lost someone in Iraq.
And of course he must. Beyond that his good humor
seems to me disorienting, and strange.
In arguing for the right path as he sees it, the
president more and more claims for himself virtues that the
other side, by inference, lacks. He is "idealistic";
those who oppose him are, apparently, lacking in ideals.
He makes his decisions "based on principle,"
unlike his critics, who are ever watchful of the polls. He is
steadfast, brave, he believes "freedom isn't
just for Americans" but has "universal . . . applications,"
unlike those selfish, isolationist types who
oppose him. ...
Americans have always been somewhat romantic about
the meaning of our country, and the beacon
it can be for the world, and what the Founders
did. But they like the president to be the cool-eyed realist,
the tough customer who understands harsh realities.
With Mr. Bush it is the people who are forced
to be cool-eyed and realistic.
He's the one who goes off on the toots. This
is extremely irritating, and also unnatural.
Actually it's weird.
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