A short time back, when President Bush needed as much sympathy as he could get, after outraging the nation by commuting the 30 month prison sentence of the treasonous 'Scooter' Libby, the Washington Post published an extended profile that tried to capture the essence of the man inside the West Wing.
The result was a portrait of a president isolated from many of the realities of the America he has ruled for seven years; disconnected from old friends; unable to comprehend the vastness of the tragedy of the Iraq War; cocooned from the anger and frustration felt by most Americans by the careful screening procedures that all but hand select every person he meets or talks to, and a world leader who displays a near psychotic trust in a mythical entity who he relies on to guide him through monumentally important decisions.
The Washington Post profile is sad and shocking. Sad because it finally confirms that Bush is a mere figurehead for a NeoCon power cabal that lets him think he is making decisions on issues they long decided before he even heard about them, and shocking because Bush's apparently rock solid religious beliefs have rendered with a near Buddha-like calm that fogs his ability to understand just what he is doing, and how many suffer from the decisions he makes based on how God, and the NeoCons, choose to guide him.
The story tells us that Bush is a president "looking for answers". But Americans expect him to already know most of the answers to the questions he is asking of a endless stream of philosophers, authors, historians and theologians who tromp into the West Wing like ancient sages before a bedraggled king - one so disconnected from reality, he shows few signs of stress or strain.
Bush, we are told, is still struggling with "the nature of good and evil", like some half-baked wannabe poet in his college dorm, lost in a swirl of dreams of enlightenment and purity of vision still yet to be shunted aside by the every day reality of the world :
What lessons does history have for a president facing the turmoil I'm facing? How will history judge what we've done? Why does the rest of the world seem to hate America? Or is it just me they hate?
That Bush is even asking people these questions is mind-quaking.
China, Russia, even India, must look to the US, and the man who wanders the West Wing, and think how easy it would be to decalibrate America's standing as the world's leading global power, if they wanted to. They don't have, to of course, Bush is already doing all this for them.
The same myopic self-absorption that saw him maintain a steady state of alcoholism (and episodic drug abuse) for some two decades has not departed Bush. While the American economy collapses like a tired old man, and the bodies of America's military youth flow steadily back from Iraq, Bush just wants to know if he will get to see some good books written about him before he dies.
The whole profile is worth reading, but the entire piece can be summed up in this one line excerpt :
For all the setbacks, he remains unflinching, rarely expressing doubt in his direction...
Are we supposed to feel sympathy for the man behind the presidency when we read of how "Bush seems alone, isolated by events beyond his control, with trusted advisers taking their leave and erstwhile friends turning on him"?
It seems a near impossible ask for any American today.
What does Bush really know of the reality tens of millions Americans face now their debt repayments are beyond their ability to pay them? That they cannot afford health care? Or to provide their children a full education? He knows nothing of these realities because he comes from a family of the American elite, royalty with no monarchy. The White House is as removed from the reality of the average American as the Bush family summer home in Maine.
And yet the Washington Post tries ask his fellow Americans to feel sympathy for President Bush because he doesn't get to go out to enough restaurants or to ride his bike where he wants to ride it, and to try and understand how hard it is to be president in the United States, 2007. As though none of the chaos, the carnage, the destruction, the dismay, the horror is of his very own doing. But of course, Bush is responsible for it all. He is the President of the United States. If Americans can't blame the president for the woes of their nation, then who can they blame?
"I don't know how he copes with it," said Donald Burnham Ensenat, a friend for 43 years who just stepped down as State Department protocol officer. Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), another longtime friend who once worked for Bush, said he looks worn down. "It's a marked difference in his physical appearance," Conaway said. "It's an incredibly heavy load. When you ask men and women to take risks, to send them into war knowing they might not come home, that's got to be an incredible burden to have on your shoulders."The extended Washington Post profile bears some strong similarities to what is undoubtedly the most important profile of George W. Bush ever written : 'The Accidental Candidate' by Gail Sheedy from October 2000. The Bush in both stories are all but the same, which is bizarre indeed, seeing as the stories are separated by seven years of presidency, the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War.
Bush is fixated on Iraq, according to friends and advisers. One former aide went to see him recently to discuss various matters, only to find Bush turning the conversation back to Iraq again and again. He recognizes that his presidency hinges on whether Iraq can be turned around in 18 months. "Nothing matters except the war," said one person close to Bush. "That's all that matters. The whole thing rides on that."
"You don't get any feeling of somebody crouching down in the bunker," said Irwin M. Stelzer, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who was part of one group of scholars who met with Bush. "This is either extraordinary self-confidence or out of touch with reality. I can't tell you which."The reality has been daunting by any account. No modern president has experienced such a sustained rejection by the American public. Bush's approval rating slipped below 50 percent in Washington Post-ABC News polls in January 2005 and has not topped that level in the 30 months since. The last president mired under 50 percent so long was Harry S. Truman. Even Richard M. Nixon did not fall below 50 percent until April 1973, 16 months before he resigned.The polls reflect the events of Bush's second term, an unyielding sequence of bad news. Social Security. Hurricane Katrina. Harriet E. Miers. Dubai Ports World. Vice President Cheney's hunting accident. Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay and Mark Foley. The midterm elections. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Alberto R. Gonzales and Paul D. Wolfowitz. Immigration. And overshadowing it all, the Iraq war, now longer than the U.S. fight in World War II.Since winning reelection 2 1/2 years ago, Bush has had few days of good news, and what few he has had rarely lasted. Purple-fingered Iraqis went to the polls to establish a democracy but elected a dysfunctional government riven by sectarian strife. U.S. forces hunted down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, but the violence only worsened. Saddam Hussein was convicted, but his execution was marred by videotaped taunting. Perhaps the only unalloyed major second-term victory for Bush has been the confirmation of two Supreme Court justices who have begun to move the court to the right.
"I find him serene," (Iraq War advisor, Henry) Kissinger said. "I know President Johnson was railing against his fate. That's not the case with Bush. He feels he's doing what he needs to do, and he seems to me at peace with himself."Bush has virtually given up on winning converts while in office and instead is counting on vindication after he is dead. "He almost has . . . a sense of fatalism," said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who recently spent a day traveling with Bush. "All he can do is do his best, and 100 years from now people will decide if he was right or wrong. It doesn't seem to be a false, macho pride or living in your own world. I find him to be amazingly calm."
As Bush heads toward the twilight of his presidency, the White House feels increasingly empty. One after another, aides who have stuck with him are heading out the door. Andrew H. Card Jr., his chief of staff for more than five years, stepped down last year. And now counselor Dan Bartlett, an aide for 14 years, is leaving.Bush seeks solace in his oldest friends from Texas and Yale University, hosting an annual summer picnic and a Christmas party. He invites friends to the White House or the ranch in Crawford. But those experiences are strangely impersonal. "It can be kind of clinical," said a friend who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. "You're in there and in that event it's all very controlled -- you come in for drinks at 7, you have dinner at 7:30 and by 9 you're back at your hotel."
"There isn't any doubt that he is totally and completely aware of all the existing circumstances around him," said a close friend. "There's not anything that he's not aware of -- how he's perceived, how his people are perceived, the problems his people have. He is the furthest thing from oblivious. . . . Somewhere in the back of his mind there's a pretty complete autopsy."
Some people never change. It may never have been more true than it is for George W. Bush.