Just Above Sunset
May 16, 2004 - A young and callow fellow, or a coward and a sociopath?
Try to remember the kind of September
perhaps remember those words from the song in the musical "The Fantastics." You might even remember live performances where
Harry Belafonte dedicated the song to the memory of Audrey Hepburn who was also a UNICEF ambassador.
Well, let’s work
Right now the Middle American psyche is being overwhelmed with reasons to hate the entire Arab
world; and yet the Bush administration insists that we are in Iraq to help the Arabs.
Unfortunately, the administration seems to be completely unaware of how sick and tired of Arabs the average
American has become, unaware because it is politically incorrect to express such sentiments of outright hostility: but what
is politically incorrect to express is all too often the motive force behind those sudden and spontaneous movements of the
popular psyche that only seemed to come from nowhere because they came from a place unfamiliar to most pundits and paid prophets,
namely, the gut level feelings of the average guy.
This probably is not the
most mature view of things you’ll come across in the world of international politics. And it probably is very true as a summation of how many, many Americans feel.
The word that comes into my head first of all, in this respect, is "callow." The flip-side of Bush's amusing, frat-boyish, nick-naming friendliness is an occasional lapse into a kind of immaturity. On the campaign trail four years ago, he hammed it up about a female prisoner whose death warrant he had signed as governor of Texas. This indiscretion wasn't a tall tale told by a Bush-hater; it was a report from a young conservative writer who was as shocked as anyone. At a recent big press dinner, the president showed a video clip of himself in the White House looking under sofas and chairs and tables. "Those weapons of mass destruction have got be around here somewhere," he quipped. Ha ha ha. The president put people's lives at risk, put America's reputation on the line, and justified a war on the basis, in part, of WMDs. And then he makes a joke about it? It doesn't matter what he might say in private. Everyone deserves to let off steam. But in public? This callowness also veers at times toward recklessness. People forget that he allowed his drunk-driving past to be used by his opponents, rather than confronting it early head-on in the 2000 campaign. And they forget that he took the weekend off before the last election. Those two errors probably ensured his razor-thin victory and the national trauma of Florida and beyond in 2000. They were errors of avoidance and complacency.
Yes, Tucker Carlson was
the young conservative writer who was pretty amazed at Bush’s comic impression of Tammy Fay Tucker begging for her life. Tucker Carlson didn’t find it funny. Callow
is a good word here.
And then there's his inability to take full responsibility for many of his own policies. He has never conceded that he even needs to address his fiscal record. Mention deficits and his aides do the equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and singing loudly. When the WMD intelligence debacle became apparent, he never sat down in front of the nation and explained what went wrong and why. He gave an interview where he drew no distinction between Saddam's programs for WMDs and the stockpiles the administration had claimed he had. "What's the difference?" he quipped. That ducking of responsibility is still coming back to haunt him. Or take the Abu Ghraib scandal. Why did he not actually apologize on Arab television before the apology with King Abdullah? And why could he not take ultimate responsibility for the horror as commander-in-chief?
All good questions. Because mature behavior is so boring? Because
his base, the ordinary “normal Americans” Harris identifies, can understand the joy of being a little naughty
and not caring about details - and he knows they love such stuff? Perhaps.
This refusal to take full responsibility himself is related to his difficulty in disciplining others. He has fired no one of any consequence in his term of office. The CIA director, George Tenet, presided over both the 9/11 catastrophe and the WMD fiasco. He brazenly told Congress recently that it would take years before the CIA could be up to speed on terrorism. Yet his job is secure. Donald Rumsfeld had the Taguba report on Abu Ghraib prison abuse in January, failed to bring it to Bush's attention in full, and went into a press conference last week declaring that he had only read the "executive summary." That prompted an unusual publicly-disseminated "private rebuke" from the president, but no sign that any further action would be taken - and, subsequently a strong endorsement of the defense secretary. Similarly, Bush's first budget director, Mitch Daniels, presided over the biggest leap in government spending in decades. Yet he has been rewarded with a plum candidacy for the governorship of Indiana. The only people Bush disciplines or attacks are those who have left the fold: Paul O'Neill or Richard Clarke. This has one obvious advantage. The White House is cohesive, stable and strong. But it also has one obvious disadvantage: there is little incentive to get anything right and little fear of getting anything wrong. Sometimes it seems as if the president is more offended by lack of punctuality or an errant cell-phone than by a major policy blunder.
Would Bush say everyone
just takes this governing thing way too seriously – that heck, you just hang with your friends and screw guys who give
your trouble – just like back in junior high? That seems to fit.
… Bush avoids the kind of media consumption his predecessor went in for, getting his news from a small cadre of yes-men and women. This White House - remarkably leak-proof - has generated an almost cult-like uniformity and conviction that it can do no wrong. This has led to great tenacity in a war that must look far more frightening on the inside than the outside. But it can also lead to excessive rigidity. On Iraq, the president refuses publicly to acknowledge that anything has gone awry or that anything needs to be fixed. Some of this is wise. He shouldn't be jumping to address every criticism from people who want him to fail anyway and will crucify him for any admitted errors. But his blunt inability to convey any sense that he is in a mess and needs serious adjustment - far from allaying public concerns - can actually intensify them. When you're cocooned, you do not hear the worries of those outside the inner circle, or the questions they are asking. And so you often make errors that a more porous or diverse management style would prevent.
Yeah, but you have a good
… there's something intangible about the dissonance between what the administration says and the way it sometimes acts. I don't buy the notion that this president is a liar. But he does seem at times to be putting it on somewhat. It didn't help that during the Abu Ghraib mess, the president was in a bus campaigning in Ohio. Did he not understand the gravity of what had happened? Nor did it exactly reassure even the administration's supporters to see Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz last Saturday night in black tie and evening wear, chatting and beaming and socializing with the like of Ben Affleck at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Either there's a war on or there isn't. And there's a troubling disconnect between the president's stirring and vital admonitions of the threats we face and his ideas for Americans at home. When people after 9/11 were prepared to do anything to help their country, Bush advised them to go shopping. I see his point. The economy was in danger of serious deflation at the time and the president deserves credit for rescuing it. But there was still something not quite right about the tone and tenor. Callowness again.
Bush say, hey Sullivan, lighten up, dude!
Of course there is this view: “I have concluded, therefore, that George W. Bush is a coward and a sociopath.”
Posted on Counterspin this week -
… The administration says that the
Geneva Conventions don't apply to terrorists. (Let's put aside the fact that
they do apply to Iraqi POW's for a moment).
No, as my friend John pointed out, that would not be a wise move for John Kerry to take. Let Bush implode.
Yeah, but he might not. And having as a national leader a callow, vengeful bully sticking it to anyone who gives us, or him, trouble? That really seems to please about half the voters in this country.
Well, everyone can vote.
This issue updated and published on...
Paris readers add nine hours....