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September 25, 2005 - Teenagers: Always a Problem

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So what's wrong in Washington?

Tuesday, September 20, I came across this from Susan Estrich:


We used to joke about Bill Clinton feeling everyone's pain. Does George W. Bush only feel pain when the Christian Coalition is feeding it?

My friend Maureen says the critical thing to understand about President Bush is that, psychologically speaking, he is really just a teenager with a grown-up wife/mother. He is busy with his war. Weather is for mayors and governors. So of course he didn't want to interrupt his vacation and take responsibility for a devastating mess that in his book (ask any mother of a teenager about this logic) was simply not his fault.

Why should he, when he had other plans? Only when absolutely forced to do so has he been willing to accept the first rule of politics: that the public will forgive you for anything, but first you have to take responsibility. So yesterday, Bush said: I'm responsible. And now he will say: Let's all pull together and rebuild. What else can he say?

But just remember: It's your teenager talking. Does he really think he did anything wrong? I don't think so. And that's what makes me angry. A president's first obligation is to the welfare of his citizens, regardless of race, color or income. At least, if he's a grown-up.


Our friend Nico in Montreal:


Being someone with two teenagers (16, 19) and a tween (11) in the house, I can say that Bush's teenager-like demur means that he just doesn't see anything that doesn't interest him, either by his own directives or those of his 'parent' community. Left to their own devices, teenagers hardly notice anything but other teens. And what can a teen do when they have been busted for being insensitive, but apologize in disdain?

What has me a little baffled is that every teenager thinks New Orleans is an "excellent" place, one of the four cardinal cities of the US, along with New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. If the storm had hit only little Mobile or Lafayette, you could understand ignoring it, but New Orleans?

My thinking is that the teenage Dubya might have been the first person to arrive in New Orleans, but, as president, he had to wait for FEMA, Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, the Reserves to get there first. I imagine even GWB is disappointed at the slow response of the federal agencies, when he's spent his entire presidency trying to ramp up America's preparedness to disaster.

The federal government would do better next time if they were to call the next dangerous hurricane that threatened America's shore Osama.


Maybe so, but our Wall Street attorney friend suggest we ought to call the next one "W" - which makes some sense.

But if the president is just a teenager with a grown-up wife/mother - then she (one of the two) should help him dress. He's bad with buttons, as you see here 

Bush- misaligned shirt buttons

Sweet Jesus! You can't take the guy anywhere!

Of course, as mentioned in another item in these pages regarding Bush and Cheney: "There's been some kind of bait-and-switch? These guys are sleepers - liberal radicals from the sixties planted in the Republican Party long ago to destroy it from within?  Possibly.  One of the odder conspiracy theories, of course."  Just an offhand comment, but turned into a cartoon here. T he nerd-shirt-button thing is part of the same plot?  Could be.

But what of the speech itself?

One of our friends teaches marketing to would-be MBA students at a prestigious business school in upstate New York.


The view from graduate school?


Did you see Maureen Dowd's piece last Friday - "Disney on Parade" - on the mega lighting imported to New Orleans to backlight W's salvation speech - in a town with little functional power he color-lit Cinderella's castle? I used it in my marketing class - a discussion on modern forms of "packaging."

Regarding this "destroying from within" idea, she went on to make the point that W's proposed coastal bail-out will be the largest government initiative since FDR - and that ultimately Bush Senior will be seen as the ultra-conservative in the family.



The Dowd item is here and contains nuggets like these:


• On Thursday night, Mr. Bush wanted to appear casually in charge as he waged his own Battle of New Orleans in Jackson Square. Instead, he looked as if he'd been dropped off by his folks in front of a eerie, blue-hued castle at Disney World. (Must be Sleeping Beauty's Castle, given the somnambulant pace of W.'s response to Katrina.)

• All Andrew Jackson's horses and all the Boy King's men could not put Humpty Dumpty together again. His gladiatorial walk across the darkened greensward, past a St. Louis Cathedral bathed in moon glow from White House klieg lights, just seemed to intensify the sense of an isolated, out-of-touch president clinging to hollow symbols as his disastrous disaster agency continues to flail.

• In a ruined city - still largely without power, stinking with piles of garbage and still 40 percent submerged; where people are foraging in the miasma and muck for food, corpses and the sentimental detritus of their lives; and where unbearably sad stories continue to spill out about hordes of evacuees who lost their homes and patients who died in hospitals without either electricity or rescuers - isn't it rather tasteless, not to mention a waste of energy, to haul in White House generators just to give the president a burnished skin tone and a prettified background?

• The slick White House TV production team was trying to salvage W.'s "High Noon" snap with some snazzy Hollywood-style lighting - the same Reaganesque stagecraft they had provided when W. made a prime-time television address from Ellis Island on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. On that occasion, Scott Sforza, a former ABC producer, and Bob DeServi, a former NBC cameraman and a lighting expert, rented three barges of giant Musco lights, the kind used for "Monday Night Football" and Rolling Stones concerts, floated them across New York Harbor and illuminated the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop for Mr. Bush.


And this:


The Oedipal loop-de-loop of W. and Poppy grows ever loopier.

With Karl Rove's help, Junior designed his presidency as a reverse of his father's. W. would succeed by studying Dad's failures and doing the opposite. But in a bizarre twist of filial fate, the son has stumbled so badly in areas where he tried to one-up Dad that he has ended up giving Dad a leg up in the history books.

As Mark Twain said: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

Of course, it's taken Junior only five years to learn how smart his old man was.


Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta –


But it was odd marketing indeed, don't you think?

Looking back on it, it seemed like the White House gardeners had been brought down to mow the lawn, which they finished only moments before Bush strolled across it. I mean, these folks fly the president all the way to this scene of desolation in order to make the case that he does feel our pain after all, yet they don't want to make it look like a mess, so he ends up making a speech from what looks like the Beverly Hilton after a lovely late night meal on the lawn with family and friends.

So did all this help him sell whatever the hell he was trying to sell us? I mean, not that I think they should have casually left a cadaver or two lying around, as if they were just "so busy doing the people's business" that they hadn't found the time to clean up the shot - I suppose that would have been pretty tacky, and obviously staged at that.

What's funny is that it used to be these people could have had him do anything they wanted - possibly including having sex on live TV with either a farm animal or a small child of either gender - and most Americans would still vote for him, but now that he's not running for anything anymore, they can't seem to do anything right. So I ask you, what's up with that?

I mean, his poll numbers are in the dirt! So what is it about Americans that they know who and what they're voting for - and this includes Richard Nixon and Grey Davis - and yet later change their minds and decide they want somebody else in there now? Why don't they see the value in trying real hard to get it right the first time?
Teenagers, my ass! Toddlers is more like it.

PS - I'm actually fond of toddlers, by the way; I just wouldn't trust them to prepare my income tax returns, much less run my country.


Yes, this didn't work out well.

But let's get the opinion of a professional - T. J. Walker, author of Presentation Training A-Z, and president of Media Training Worldwide.  Here is some of his evaluation and it appeared in William F. Buckley's flagship conservative journal, The National Review:


President Bush's walk out to the lectern in front of a church last night to address the nation was a nice opening touch. His blue shirt was wrinkleless, but with rolled up sleeves, he looked like he was serious about hard work and seemed appropriately somber.

Stage Craft
Bush has greatly improved his TelePrompTer reading abilities over the years, but he is still no Reagan or Clinton. Though Bush had only a few very minor stumbles, he didn't seem as steady or rehearsed as he did earlier in the year for his Inaugural or the State of the Union addresses. Though Bush no longer rushes his Teleprompter reading as he once did, he was squinting as though he was having a hard time reading. Additionally, the lighting seemed too harsh on his eyes. While technically proficient, Bush didn't adequately personalize his delivery. Additionally positive, Bush did not shake or bob his head, as he often does when he tries to seem emphatic.

Speech Craft
Structurally, Bush's speech was well-crafted. He used ample doses of examples, stories and vignettes, complete with dialogue from real people. However, his hawking of 1-800 numbers and websites seemed un-presidential and more appropriate for a lowly public information officer giving a press briefing.


Appeal to liberals
If Hillary Clinton once channeled Eleanor Roosevelt in the White House, then Bush one-upped her by channeling FDR and LBJ. Bush said the answer to all of New Orleans' problems was big government or gigantic government. New government program after new government program was proposed. Ted Kennedy must have been chortling to himself thinking "I must be back in the 60s world of big government solutions to every societal problem." For a moment it seemed Bush would promise a chicken gumbo in every pot.

Appeal to conservatives
Zero. Bush ignored the concepts of individual accountability and responsibility in his speech. In the Bush world, his new moral relativism makes no distinctions between those who bought flood insurance and those who didn't; those who choose to live in safe mountains high above sea level and those who build below sea level in flood zones predicted by every expert to be washed away. Bush's message was redistributionist, collectivist, and nannist. Individuals bear no responsibility for their misfortunes or for their own recovery. Any conservative with third grade math skills or beyond could smell trillions of dollars of budget deficit flowing out of Bush's mouth.


So says the National Review.

Maybe the conspiracy theory, that Bush is a liberal sleeper planted long ago in Republican Party to destroy it, has its merits.

How else would explain these sorts of things?

From John Podhoretz, over at National Review Online, this:


For the crime of noting that the president's speech didn't help his poll numbers, I'm getting battered by e-mailers who suggest, among other things, that I am somehow unmanly because I'm not "supporting" the president enough. I never thought a day would come when I - the author of a book entitled 'Bush Country: How Dubya Became the First Great Leader of the 21st Century While Driving Liberals Insane' - would be accused of being a fair-weather supporter of GWB. Let me just try to explain something to my e-mailers. The president gave his speech Thursday night in an effort to reverse the decline in his political fortunes. ... It appears his effort was unsuccessful, in part (I think) because he sounded like a Big Spender and alienated more Republicans without winning over more Democrats. ... Bush supporters don't help him or themselves any by pretending his troubles are all due to the MSM. He has, for the moment, lost the country's confidence.



And he won't win it back with thing like this - the appointment of Julie Myers to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security.

Note this from the Washington Post:


The Bush administration is seeking to appoint a lawyer with little immigration or customs experience to head the troubled law enforcement agency that handles those issues, prompting sharp criticism from some employee groups, immigration advocates and homeland security experts.

The push to appoint Julie Myers to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, comes in the midst of intense debate over the qualifications of department political appointees involved in the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina...

... After working as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, N.Y., for two years, Myers held a variety of jobs over the past four years at the White House and at the departments of Commerce, Justice and Treasury, though none involved managing a large bureaucracy. Myers worked briefly as chief of staff to Michael Chertoff when he led the Justice Department's criminal division before he became Homeland Security secretary.

Myers also was an associate under independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr for about 16 months and has most recently served as a special assistant to President Bush handling personnel issues.

Her uncle is Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She married Chertoff's current chief of staff, John F. Wood, on Saturday.

In written answers to questions from Congress, Myers highlighted her year-long job as assistant secretary for export enforcement at Commerce, where she said she supervised 170 employees and a $25 million budget. ICE has more than 20,000 employees and a budget of approximately $4 billion. Its personnel investigate immigrant, drug and weapon smuggling, and illegal exports, among other responsibilities.

Myers was on her honeymoon and was not available to comment yesterday. Erin Healy, a White House spokeswoman, cited Myers's work with customs agents on money-laundering and drug-smuggling cases. "She's well-known and respected throughout the law enforcement community," Healy said. "She has a proven track record as an effective manager."


Right. And I'm the pope.

Also from the Post:


"It appears she's got a tremendous amount of experience in money laundering, in banking and the financial areas," said Charles Showalter, president of the National Homeland Security Council, a union that represents 7,800 ICE agents, officers and support staff. "My question is: Who the hell is going to enforce the immigration laws?"


Picky, picky. picky...

Think of Michael Brown at FEMA who just resigned, formerly the chief council to the Arabian horse organization - before they fired him. That worked out well, didn't it? And heck, Julie here is the niece of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after all, and she worked for Ken Starr on getting Clinton good for that blow job, and she just married the second in command to the man who runs all of Homeland Security, Chertoff. And Chertoff himself had no emergency management experience at all, and never ran any large organization - he ran an office investigating and prosecuting corporate crime. He's doing fine work, no?

Heck, only an irresponsible sneering teenager would appoint someone utterly unqualified just because they knew someone he knew? Think about it.

Maybe such appointments are a sort of teenage rebellious in-your-face kind of thing. Last week - see the Washington Post here - the FDA appointed Norris Alderson, a veterinarian, to the post of director of the Office of Women's Health.  Then, a few days later, the FDA announced an internal promotion - a Theresa Toigo would be directing the Women's Health office.  They then refused to acknowledge that they had, in fact, named Alderson to the post a few days earlier.  Never happened. 


You can imagine the Bush joke at the White House - get a retired vet to work with the damned bitches - a bitch is a bitch. At least that's what my Wall Street friend hypothesized. It was kind of a teenage joke. Of course the post was vacated last month by an MD named Susan Wood - she resigned saying the administration was throwing out scientific findings to please the religious right, and she would have none of it. She wanted to work from the proven facts. Bitch. (Covered in these pages here and in brief elsewhere - here.)

This is teenage stuff.


Apparently White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card is going to be the new Secretary of the Treasury, replacing John Snow.  Over at the Washington Monthly this


Has it really gotten to the point where it's impossible for Bush to find solid, conservative appointees for these positions who have actual experience in the relevant fields? Aren't there any left who are still willing to work for him? Or does he feel so besieged by life that he literally feels he can't trust anyone with a big job unless they've spent a couple of years working within a few feet of him?


Teenagers are like that. From Brad DeLong, the Berkeley economist, this:


Certainly there is no reason to think that Andrew Card is qualified to direct either international economic policy coordination, manage the fiscal policy of the United States, or regulate its financial system. And I have not met anybody who has in private praised Andrew Card's performance as White House chief of staff. The consensus is that he has made sure that the president hears only what the president wants to hear. But the job of chief of staff is to make sure that the president hears what the president needs to hear.


Teenagers don't like to hear what they need to hear, Brad.  Sure, the man knows nothing of finance or the economy, but Bush trusts him.  He says nice things.  As for this huge budget and the current account deficits, and rising energy and gold prices, and a bubble in the housing market, and out of control hedge funds, and a corporate pension system in the process of collapse - any of which could trigger a real financial crisis - what's the problem?  What could go wrong where the Treasury might actually have to do something?  Directing international economic policy coordination, managing the fiscal policy of the United States, regulating its financial system - anyone can do that.

And we have this doofy teenager who can't button his shirt right calling the shots for the next two or three years.  Hope for the best.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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