2.17.2004

POLITICS - No New Nuances

I know everybody's tired of discussing Bush's Meet the Press appearance. We all know that Bush seemed like a frat boy who spent all morning studying a couple notecards to prepare for debate. One of Bush's biggest supporters called his performance "erratic" and "bumbling".

Even though the MTP interview is "old news", I still have to recommend this Richard Cohen piece from yesterday's WaPo. He's basically pointing out the white elephant in the room. It's not that Bush seemed "unprepared" for the debate. (I suspect that his aides spent at least a dozen hours prepping him for Russert.) The problem is Bush himself. He can only see two sides to each issue, wrong v. right, us v. them, christians v. others. As a politician, he is the direct opposite of John Kerry, a man who spends considerable time researching issues and striking nuanced positions.

Of course, my words suck. Richard Cohen is a bit clearer.
After Bush's "Meet the Press" performance, countless commentators tried to figure out why he had done so poorly. Many of them focused on performance, political artifice -- the part of politics that looks so easy until, as Wes Clark did, you try it for yourself. Yes, Bush did not perform well. But even a brilliant actor needs material.

Others lamented Bush's verbal klutziness. If only he could talk like Tony Blair, one of them sighed. But the reason he cannot talk like Blair is because he doesn't think like Blair. The British prime minister can acknowledge an awkward fact, even a mistake, and keep on going. Bush can only insist that he is right. It doesn't matter that the facts have changed.

This had little to do with speech and a lot to do with thought. Once certainty is snatched from him, he seems in a state of vertigo where he grasps at certain words to steady himself. Dangerous. Madman. But if a madman does not have the weapons you said he did, then he is not dangerous, and if he did not have the weapons then maybe he was not as mad as we thought he was. There is much to ponder here.


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