Sunday, July 15, 2007

What, Me Worry?

Former Reagan “special assistant” Peggy Noonan mused recently in The Wall Street Journal on “what it is about [George W. Bush], real or perceived, that makes people who used to smile at the mention of his name now grit their teeth.
I’m not referring to what used to be called Bush Derangement Syndrome. That phrase suggested that to passionately dislike the president was to be somewhat unhinged. No one thinks that anymore. I received an email before [last week’s Bush] 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. It sounded like a country western song, like a great lament.

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.
The likelihood is that Bush acts so cheery, simply because he’s hoping that Americans will be buoyed by his apparent self-confidence and good humor. No matter the headlines about repeated military deaths in Iraq. Forget about the administration’s rampant scandals and dissatisfaction with the prez’s performance even among his fellow Republican’ts. Ignore all those stories about power grabs by both Bush and Dick Cheney. As the old Bobby McFerrin song lyric goes, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Remarks Noonan:
I suspect people pick up with Mr. Bush the sense that part of his drama, part of the story of his presidency, is that he gets to be the romantic about history, and the American people get to be the realists. Of the two, the latter is not the more enjoyable role.

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.
In other words, Americans aren’t convinced by Bush’s relentless cheeriness. It is so at odds with their own pessimism about the direction the country is headed, their disappointment with the White House’s arrogant unwillingness to compromise with Congress, and their festering anger at the prez’s refusal to admit his mistakes or change course on a variety of fronts, his disastrous Iraq war being only one of them. Unfortunately, as Noonan notes, “Americans can’t fire the president right now, so they’re waiting it out. They can tell a pollster how they feel, and they do, and they can tell friends, and they do that too. They also watch the news conference, and grit their teeth a bit.”

And, on occasion, Americans put together videos that make fun of the intractable, naïve prez. This one comes from Nick Anderson, editorial cartoonist for The Houston Chronicle:

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