December 8, 2006

Why Bush (the Elder) cried.

Peggy Noonan says:
[N]o one who knows George H.W. Bush thinks that moment was only about Jeb....

Surely Mr. Bush knew--surely he was first on James Baker's call list--that the report would not, could not, offer a way out of a national calamity, but only suggestions, hopes, on ways through it. To know his son George had (with the best of intentions!) been wrong in the great decision of his presidency--stop at Afghanistan or move on to Iraq?--and was now suffering a defeat made clear by the report; to love that son, and love your country, to hold these thoughts, to have them collide and come together--this would bring not only tears, but more than tears.
She goes on to speculate about the younger Bush's feelings:
He has been shorn of much--his place in the winner's circle, old advisers. A man who worked for Richard Nixon reminded me the other night that when Nixon fired Haldeman and Ehrlichman, "he lost his asbestos suit." He lost his primary protectors and loyalists. President Bush is now without a similar layer. Old staffers gone, Rumsfeld gone, Cheney marginalized, Condi and Karen off representing. And the ISG. And the loss of Congress.

And yet the president presents himself each day in his chesty way, with what seems a jarring peppiness.
Why hasn't the ordeal registered on George W. Bush's face? His foes would, I think, say it's a sign of his idiocy. He's too shallow and witless to have processed the information. His fans must think it's depth of character (if not divine inspiration). Peggy says:
It is part of the Bush conundrum--a supernal serenity or a confidence born of cluelessness? You decide. Where you stand on the war will likely determine your answer. But I'll tell you, I wonder about it and do not understand it, either what it is or what it means. I'd ask someone in the White House, but they're still stuck in Rote Talking Point Land: The president of course has moments of weariness but is sustained by his knowledge of the ultimate rightness of his course . . .

If he suffers, they might tell us; it would make him seem more normal, which is always a heartening thing to see in a president.

But maybe there is no suffering.

Maybe he outsources suffering. Maybe he leaves it to his father.
I haven't heard an "outsourcing" joke in a while. Not that that's really a joke. It's nothing all that special for parents to suffer for their children. Once our children are not babies anymore, we have to release them into the world and see what happens. It's a dangerous thing about having children. It's like having a second body that can experience pain, but you can't control what that body does. You can't avoid that pain. But your suffering as a consequence of what happens to them doesn't save them from pain. It may make it worse. Didn't you refrain from telling your parents things that would only make them feel bad? If your parents are deceased and something bad happens to you, don't you think about how they didn't have to suffer the pain of knowing that? So it's a joke-like end to a column that raises a serious question: Why hasn't wartime presidency ravaged GWB the way it ravaged Lincoln, LBJ, and Nixon?

IN THE COMMENTS: Some excellent answers to that last question. Sean says:
Repeating what others have said, George Bush is a child of privilege. People like that (I am one) never worry, because we are Fortune's children. Roosevelt wasn't ravaged by WWII.

And Ed serves up the red meat for the conspiracy theorists.


sean said...

A couple theories:

1. George Bush is a lot more religious than Lincoln, LBJ or Nixon. Wilson wasn't ravaged by WWI.

2. Repeating what others have said, George Bush is a child of privilege. People like that (I am one) never worry, because we are Fortune's children. Roosevelt wasn't ravaged by WWII.

Gerald Hibbs said...

And why didn't Clinton just step down and admit all his critics were right? Oh, yeah. . .because he didn't think they were right.

I think the answer to this question is very simple.

1. He still thinks this course was the correct one.
2. He thought from the beginning it would be a long hard process so isn't surprised that it is in fact a long and hard process.
3. He listens more to the front line troops than the NYT editorial board and thinks they are making progress.
4. He has faith that this will work out in the end and he will be vindicated. The Iraq of a year from now will look better than the Iraq of today as more and more authority is able to be handed over to the local governing authorities and military/police.

If you look at it from a point of view that doesn't include "Bush lied - people died" and don't believe that "It's all about the oil to make his cronies rich" and other conspiracy theory fodder -- call me dangerously naive if you like but my guess is Bush doesn't think he did all this just so he could kill brown people for profit -- than it's not hard to understand how he can sleep at night.

He is fully expecting for his critics to one day have to give a full throated Emily Litella, "Nevermind" and move on to the next political target to score points with.

Perhaps he remembers Ronald Reagan. Vilified, called dangerous and incompetent. But now try to find an elected Democrat who won't take credit for taking down the Soviet Union. Yeah, we were ALL cold warriors in hindsight, weren't we. Funny how Gorbachev gives all the credit to Reagan. Must be a damn neocon, that guy.

Dad said...

Bart and Gerald-

Good stuff. Thanks.

Thomas Williams said...

Isn't Bush the Elder also a child of privilege?

Icepick said...

Why hasn't the ordeal registered on George W. Bush's face?

I disagree. I think it has registered on his face. I saw a clip of him earlier this week and thought he looked almost as old as his father does. (And he was speeking, so I know it was W.) He's not undergoing the spectacular facial crash of Carter, but it is registering. Does anyone have any picture comparing W's face from October 2000 to now?

I don't think it registers as much for people because Bush keeps up his bluff and bluster. I give him credit for a certain steely resolve, and he's not going to give his critics a goddamned inch. So he continues with the fighter pilot strut.

Clinton had a similar kind of resolve in not caving to his enemies, but due to personality it manifested itself in a different manner. When cornered, that's when Slick Willy would take charge. W takes more care to not get cornered, so I have no idea how he would react in that situation.

tjl said...

"Oh yeah, legitimizing India's nuclear weapons program (and pissing off Pakistan) in exchange for Mangoes."

This has to be one of the stupidest comments ever to appear on this site. India is a rising economic force, a future counterweight to China, and a strategically-placed military power with its own pressing reasons to oppose radical Islam. But Freder thinks India has nothing to offer but mangoes.

grenat said...

I think you can unerstand this better if you take the politics out of it. Assume your adult child was under serious public criticism for something that they are doing. Don't you think that it would bother you that other people are attacking your son/daughter? Now, take that and amplify it to the point that George W. is under--constant criticism (both valid and not valid) approaching the better part of a decade. The son/daughter is in a better position to weather the criticism, but you, with all of your parental instincts, want to try and make it stop. That's been shown by the elder Bush's occasional public statements attacking W's critics. Plus, take that general feeling and double it by having another son in a similar position. They say in politics the first thing you need is a tough sking, but I would imagine that it would start to wear off after a while.

Paddy O said...

"Bush literally tells us he doesn't read the papers. He's basically told us he doesn't sit around thinking seriously about this stuff."

I bet he doesn't read Time or Newsweek either! Probably even has let his National Geographic subscription run out. The signs of an unserious thinker are upon us! Likely, he spends his morning checking out the new antics of Garfield and perusing whatever shallow reports his advisers have prepared about the state of Britney's career.

My suspicion is that GWB is not holding up because he's a child of privilege but because he's not been the golden child all his life and has faced his own demons. What this does is make him less susceptible to vainglory -- that need to impress others and gain personal validity from those around.

He's had times in his life where people likely abandoned him during times of mistakes, so isn't bowled over by times like these where people are distancing. His ego has found other resources, likely Laura and a close group of others, as well as his religion.

Bill Clinton, on the other hand, is a brilliant man but his need for personal validation destroyed his potential -- because he was risk averse and poll driven. Also because he couldn't pass up even the validation of an intern to support his ego.

Gerald Hibbs said...

Freder Frederson:

All right, I'm not gonna get into a tit for tat with you. The question was, "What is Bush thinking?" and I bet my take on it is better than your take, don't you think?

Though I will say in response to your semi-hysterical, "It's getting worse every day!!!!!" viewpoint that I disagree.

Here is an extremely critical WP story on training in Iraq:

It's looking like we will need some US forces in Iraq until at least 2010. But, note that it doesn't say that we are moving backwards. We aren't making the progress as fast as we would wish. There needs to be more money for equipment. Lots of finger pointing, political posturing and appeal to hindsight. In other words, same sh** different day.

Look, the goal is a free Iraq that can govern itself and be an example to the rest of the Muslim world of what a free/prosperous yet Islamic country can look like. We are doing our best to train up and equip local Iraqi's for the job. We are doing our best to protect civilians and our troops. Meanwhile the enemy is trying to disrupt our plans. That's how this war is going to go. That's how ALL wars go. The enemy tries to screw you. Why is it a surprise?

Do you see what is going on in Europe especially non-violent France who is Islam's best Western ally? Have you read about the nation by nation take over in Africa? A friend from Nigeria has told me how Muslims use fear and violence to take over neighborhood by neighborhood. Read about the beheading of Christians. That's because Bush loves oil?

I'm not exactly pro-gay, but I'm glad that we aren't crushing them under walls here in America and that women can wear what they want even if it's skanky and I will tsk them in disapproval (see: Britney Spears - tsk tsk Britney!)

I support the President and one day we will find out if he's right. I hope and believe he is. Most of Iraq, according to polls, is glad we came. That will have to do for now.

Tim said...


Bush suffers (does anyone familiar with his exchange with Sen.-elect Webb really think part of his pointed response to Webb wasn't due to his awareness of Webb's anger, and Webb reminding him of it?). Read some of the reports from family members who lost loved ones in Afghanistan or Iraq who subsequently met with Bush.

Bush also knows of Harry Truman, what confronted Truman, what Truman did, how contemporary history treated Truman, and how Truman is now in the pantheon of Cold Warriors.

Bush's present and future is more akin to Truman's than it is LBJ or Nixon's. That, and a sustaining faith gives him courage and strength that confuses the cosmopolitan cocktail set and just absolutely pisses off his enemies.

Anonymous said...

I think Sean's partly right. Bush was elected from a dynasty, not from populist beliefs; he will pass the mantle on when it's time.

W can console himself with two very important victories--yes, victories--when the NYT gets on his last nerve:
1. We have not been attacked since 9/11;
2. The Democrats, for all their talking points, have never mounted a real offense in Congress to his war policies. They know the stakes as well as Bush does.

goesh said...

Strong points, Bart. Isn't it amazing how the Left manufactures a myth then creates another myth to explain the myth of the first myth? Take Abdullah the shoe peddler from Cairo who upon crossing the Iraqi border instantly becomes a highly trained, blooded fighter. Then in a fight like Fallujah, when most civilians fled with advance warning, the 1500+ men killed somehow become tragic, hapless insurgent peasants, mustering a defense against the evil George Bush. Nope! no blooded vets from Kasmir, Gaza, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Sudan, Lebanon there! Amazing how simple peasansts can suddenly establish clever defenses, feints, probes, ambushes and master so many weapons and design such clever booby traps! How many F'n ways can you spell attrition? The Left can't spell and they don't know geography either. When Omar, who has already engaged the Russians and IDF, gets half his skull blown off, he won't be going back, or to Kasmir or Afghanistan for that matter. Thousands of these bastards have been blown away. Look at the degraded taliban tactics in Afghanistan. They bunch up in open terrain and get hit from above. What experienced commander/NCO would allow that to happen? Iran is literally salivating at the prospect of US troops leaving Iraq. Wouldn't you? Jordan here we come! Look out Jews on your right flank! The popular myth now is that we can dialouge with Iran and those experienced Abdullahs we haven't killed will go back to peddling shoes and herding goats once we are gone from Iraq. There will be no need for jihad once Bush leaves Iraq.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised no one has said this:

He's a Texan. Remember "In Texas we call it walking"?

Yes, LBJ was a Texan too. Texans are not all the same. And I think our memory of LBJ showing the wear and tear is different from what we thought of him at the time..until he suddenly said he wasn't running. Also, LBJ had it much worse from within his own party.

I view this as a positive, btw...not a stereotype of clueless cowboys. It's the Texas equivalent of the British stiff upper lip.

W was also known at Yale as a tough poker player.

Anonymous said...

It's not that Bush (the younger) isn't suffering. He's just communicating his suffering not by words, but by blinking.

Anonymous said...

FDR's death at 63 was widely viewed at the time as being caused by the stress and strain of war. (His name is listed among the war dead on a memorial at Harvard.) As a former president, Theodore Roosevelt was a leading advocate of American intervention in WW I. He died at age 59, six months after his youngest son was killed in action.

While the war may not have taken a toll on Wilson, its aftermath did. He suffered a major stroke in the fall of 1919 while campaigning for ratification of the League of Nations treaty and remained an invalid for the rest of his term.

I'd also contest the claim that GW Bush is more religious than Lincoln. More of an ortodox Christian, yes, but the Second Inaugural alone testifies to the depth of Lincoln's religious consciousness.

The Exalted said...

fdr and woodrow wilson weren't ravaged by the world wars? did you people even graduate college? they both deterioated rapidly and, uh, died. does dying count as being "ravaged"?

and bart hall, thanks for the laughs man, that was some good stuff. this in particular was a riot:

Mr. Bush has accomplished more of his domestic legislative agenda in six years

yea, his domestic record sure is a glittering, towering achievement.

The Exalted said...

as for why w. is not ravaged, this isn't rocket science. its well known that he doesn't read any news or get any information that isn't provided to him by his inner circle, which is controlled by dick cheney. iraq is very much cheney's war -- you think he wants bad information going w.? w. probably honestly believes in the "the big bad media doesn't report on schools getting painted" meme and is likely not even aware of the absurd magnitude of the daily violence in iraq. he's not "ravaged" because he doesn't know there is something to be "ravaged" about.

Meade said...

AA: "It's nothing all that special for parents to suffer for their children. Once our children are not babies anymore, we have to release them into the world and see what happens. It's a dangerous thing about having children. It's like having a second body that can experience pain, but you can't control what that body does. You can't avoid that pain. But your suffering as a consequence of what happens to them doesn't save them from pain."

Well put. And who could even half doubt that losing a four year-old child to leukemia is a suffering, for a parent, that ever goes away?

For all anyone knows, George H. in that moment while honoring his son suffered the memory of his innocent daughter's pain fifty-three years ago -- his inconsolable loss, his permanent grief.

Noonan begins her column stating: "It is not fully right, or fully fair, to guess about another's emotions."

She then, half-right and half-fair, goes on to guess about an eighty-four year old man's emotions.


paul a'barge said...

George had (with the best of intentions!) been wrong in the great decision of his presidency--stop at Afghanistan or move on to Iraq?

Is no one capable of mentally using the way-back machine, remembering the current state of history just before we invaded Iraq? I can think of nothing more infuriating than today's litany of reverse-history engineering sooth sayers who, devoid of virtually any sense of historical facts (not context, not judgment, but even just simple facts), can pronounce that GWB was wrong back then.

Here's a clue-by-four to the hate-GWB-brigade: George was not wrong. He was absolutely right then, and he is still right, and if he, meaning we, doesn't win this, we're in for literally decades of unconscionable suffering.

Let's argue with how to win this, but when Peggy starts to mumble stuff about GWB being wrong to invade Iraq, it's all I can do to keep from calling her up and screaming obscenities over the phone at her.

Victory or death, Peggy.

David Foster said...

All of life cannot be compressed into the format of Oprah or Geraldo. Public emoting is not necessarily a sign of virtue or of deep feeling.

There are plenty of people who feel deeply but don't make a public show of it, and there are plenty of people who give the impression of empathy but are actually emotionally disconnected.

Revenant said...

How many times in 2000 and 2004 did we hear that Gore and Kerry, despite being as wooden and unemotional as robots, really cared about America and the American people? But yet we're to believe that Bush the Younger's failure to weep openly and wear a hair shirt demonstrates that he's out of touch?

MadisonMan said...

We have not been attacked since 9/11

Oh really?

Anonymous said...

Was the anthrax jihad? I thought the jury was still out on that one. And no bombings as in Madrid or London--a smattering of lone crazies with guns or cars as weapons, but no organized operation showing a capability similar to that which produced 9/11.

And another plus from the "quagmire" of Iraq: Saddam is gone as a buffer between Iran and the more moderate states like Jordan, Saudi ARabia and Egypt. Why do you think they supported Israel in the latest war? They're just as afraid of jihad as we are, if not more so. Just because they don't kiss Bush in public doesn't mean they are not helping.

I don't think that what the NYT or Fox reports tells the whole story, do you? Which is to say, I don't think he's as ravaged as everyone thinks.

hdhouse said...

Ms. Noonan gives us one "either or" that I can agree with...hmmm idiocy or depth of character...hmmmm