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The President’s Inner Peace

There’s a weird story in the Washington Post today about how President Bush’s unpopularity, combined with the failure of nearly every item on his second-term agenda, has sent him searching for answers by, paradoxically, withdrawing into the Oval Office. There he invites scholars, from historians to theologians, to talk about Big Ideas, such as why history might not judge him as harshly as everyone does now and the nature of good and evil. I’m not sure the story isn’t of the “You may think he’s an illiterate bore, but in fact, President Bush really does read!” variety that come out every summer; even so, it’s curious. Apparently, everyone who talks to him is required to say, “I find him serene” (Henry Kissinger), or “My God, he looked well. He looked like he came off a cruise in the Caribbean. He looked like he hadn’t a care in the world. It was amazing” (Alistair Horne). That’s, at least, what the outside advisers say.

From the administration and congressional types, all of whom have political careers to think about, a different story comes, especially diatribes about Alberto Gonzales:

The fabled loyalty of the Bush team, though, has frayed far more than might be apparent to him. The fight over whether Gonzales should remain attorney general has exposed a deep fault line. Bush remains convinced that his old friend did nothing wrong ethically in firing U.S. attorneys, and senior adviser Karl Rove angrily rejects what he sees as a Democratic witch hunt, according to White House officials. Yet beyond the inner circle, it is hard to find a current or former administration official who thinks Gonzales should stay.

“I don’t understand for the life of me why Al Gonzales is still there,” said one former top aide, who, like others, would speak only on the condition of anonymity. “It’s not about him. It’s about the office and who’s able to lead the department.” The ex-aide said that every time he runs into former Cabinet secretaries, “universally the first thing out of their mouths” is bafflement that Gonzales remains.

Some aides see it as Bush refusing to accept reality. “The president thinks cutting and running on his friends shows weakness,” said an exasperated senior official. “Change shows weakness. Doing what everyone knows has to be done shows weakness.” Another former aide said that no matter how many people Bush consults, he heeds only two or three.

This discontent among goppers only surprises me still because for so long they spoke in unanimity. But it’s not surprising on the face of it: the case of Alberto Gonzales is still generally aggravating. Like those unnamed aides, I’ve chalked up the fact he remains in office to two beliefs of the President’s: first, personal connection trumps all other considerations; second, (as exemplified by the “exasperated senior official”) it’s always better to act on what your most paranoid fears of what your opponents might be thinking or doing about you than what they are actually thinking or doing. (The latter is a pretty good summary of Bush’s foreign policy too, BTW.)

Also, is there any positive way to cast the admission, “Bush seemed smarter than [Irwin Stelzer] expected”? The best I can frame it is to think Stelzer expected the President to be, I don’t know, Warren Buffet smart—shrewd, that is—but discovered he’s Immanuel Kant smart instead. The problem is, I can’t imagine any situation in which a person would walk into a room expecting Buffet and then say, upon discovering Kant, “he’s smarter than I thought!” It wouldn’t happen, not the least because the people walking into a room with Warren Buffet wouldn’t be very likely to recognize Kant’s particular acumen on the fly, and those that did see both men’s brilliance would probably be wise enough to say that each man presents a different sort of brilliance such that it would be wrong to say one is in fact smarter than the other. The soft bigotry of low expectations seems to be everywhere these days…



I read that article earlier today, and emitted a long, slow sigh throughout the length of it. I’d say it was exasperating, but that wouldn’t express the deep sense of weariness.

The Washington Post is really becoming a tiresome rag.

It’s hero-worship, isn’t it? I mean the story assignment, if not the story itself. The assignment operates on the thesis that because one must be a Great Man to become President, the President’s inner life must be more complex than it seems. Then, at every turn, the actually existing President reveals the entire presupposition to have been silly. It focuses on the psychology of the President, but ignores what are may be more illuminating stories, such as who are these scholars the President thinks he ought to rely upon?

Exactly. The WaPo has essentially become a band of obsequious courtiers. Actually, I’m going to take them off my blogroll right now. Then they’ll know my wrath.

Oooh! You’re such a rebel! (If you need more ammunition, see Ken Silverstein here and here.)

I just read that Harper’s article last week.

But then I thought to myself, if I hate this country and its government so much, why don’t I just leave?

Cuz it’s behind the paywall and I haven’t been to the library yet, I haven’t read it all. How’d it end, anyway? Did the lobbyists come clean or have any doubts of conscience?

It’s odd, because the WaPo just did an excellent series of articles on Cheney—they were reprinted in the Casper newspaper, which, at the end of the series, even put out an anti-Cheney editorial (now you know why people here call it the Casper Red Star).

I expect, like any big news organization, there’s discrepancy among particular editors and reporters. This particular story about Bush’s peace of mind (with no mention of Laura, tsk, tsk) I think is a mixed bag of both fluff and substance, and not entirely bad.

Re 6:

Of course there was no change of heart. The moral compass of these Men in Washington has been severely, if not permanently, led astray by the weighty gold ore they have been mining…

“Moral compass”?! Where did you pick up such ridiculous psychobabble? Has somebody changed your name to Kendall-Bennett without my knowing?