Someone I read, somewhere this week (I apologize, whoever you were, for the imprecise attribution), said words to the effect of, “he may not be talking to the portraits, yet, but…” We can only get so far on the jet lag excuse.
The thing I’m most struck by over the last few weeks is President Bush’s shrinkage in stature. He cut an insignificant figure in China even before he went into his doofus shtick, and seems to be diminishing as the dark cloud of Cheney solidifies and casts Bush in shadow. It’s hard to believe he was once the chalice of Peggy Noonan’s hopes; Winston Churchill in a leather jockstrap, in the humid imaginations of warbloggers. You get the impression that underneath the show of resolve and irritable resentment, he feels sorry for himself, pouty about not being appreciated. Which may explain why Laura Bush seems to have hardened into a carapace at his side, reverting to the Pat Nixon role to withstand the buffeting winds swirling around her husband and his own stormy moods.
“The President is more determined than ever to stay the course,” the former defense official said. “He doesn’t feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage ‘People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.’ ” He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. “They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,” the former defense official said. Bush’s public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an increasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. “Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House,” the former official said, “but Bush has no idea.”
What does it say about the president of the United States that he won’t go anywhere near ordinary citizens any more? And that he’ll only speak to captive audiences?
President Bush’s safety zone these days doesn’t appear to extend very far beyond military bases, other federal installations and Republican fundraisers.
The best chance ordinary citizens have had in ages to be anywhere near the president comes Thursday at 5 p.m., when the Bushes participate in the Pageant of Peace tree lighting ceremony on the Ellipse. But it won’t exactly be a policy speech — and anyway, tickets to that event were distributed three weeks ago.
When was the last time that Bush spoke in a forum open to citizens who are representative of the diverse array of views in the country? Certainly not since last October’s presidential debates, and not often before then, either.
The White House advance team has long been sensitive to the potency of imagery in presidential events, going to great lengths to stage dramatic backdrops for Bush’s appearances. In particular, they have used uniformed, on-duty military audiences many times before to underscore his case for war.
During last year’s campaign, White House advance teams began screening audiences at Bush events to insure that only supporters were allowed in. After the election, that policy gave way to a new, “invitation only” approach, in which tickets to so-called public events were distributed largely by Republican and business groups. Now Bush is in phase three, where almost everyone he appears before is either on the federal payroll or a Republican donor.
I’ve written a lot about Bush’s bubble before. In particular, I’ve wondered if Bush suffers from being so sheltered from dissent, and I’ve raised the question of whether taxpayers should be funding presidential events to which the public is never welcome.
Why is this happening? Is it related to the widespread public dissatisfaction with his policies, particularly in Iraq? Is Bush reluctant to appear before an audience that might not clap at his applause lines? Is he afraid of dissent? Are his aides shielding him against his will? Is it just a matter of stagecraft, to avoid any incident that might lure the media off message?
We don’t know, of course, because no one has actually asked the White House to explain…
A couple of weeks ago, a Bush-loving Washington Times outlet, Insight on the News, reported that Bush now maintains daily contact with only four people: his wife Laura, his mother Barbara, Condoleeza Rice, and Karen Hughes.
Paging Dr. Krauthammer…