In one of his many farewell interviews, George W. Bush was asked by Charles Gibson to elaborate on any post-White-House plans. Bush responded,
“Wouldn’t it be for interesting for baby boomers not to retire in nice places but to retire, during their retirement, go help people dealing with malaria or AIDS. In other words, and I’m not suggesting that’s what I’m going to do, but it’s the kind of thing that intruiges me.”
Yes, yes, I know. Somewhere, a member of Bush’s faithful 25% are wagging their finger “can liberals please stop with the Bush bashing? He’s gone. Get over it.”
Happy to oblige.
This is not about 43, but rather something which enfuriates both sides of the isle: the media. With the closure of the Bush era and with the Obama inauguration fresh in our minds, let us reflect on what two prominent media outlets told us back in 2001 to expect from the then-nascent Bush presidency.
Case #1: “A Vision of Unity“
In this editorial, the reader is informed of the new president’s promise to lead with ”civility, courage, compassion and character”. Moving on, the article interprets an inaugural reference to “our long history” as evidence of a president “determined to reassure those who fear that he harbors a harsh streak”.
Appearing in the same newspaper, an inauguration day article highlighted an obscure reference Bush made in a speech to the RNC as indicitive of his inclusive temperament and his bipartisan ambitions: ”I’m going to be the president of everybody, whether they voted for me or not.”
In both pieces, Bush was gently lauded for his tone, his image, and his promise.
Case #2: “Military aggression, deregulation of dangerous industries, and the defunding of vital domestic programs.”
In this article, also published on inauguration day 2001, the reader is informed that Bush will steer the US into “at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years”.
Bush is quoted as saying:
“at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us.”
The article ends with a summa on Bush’s take on partisanship: “We as a people must stand united, banding together to tear this nation in two”.
The first two articles appeared in the New York Times, the nation’s newspaper of record. The latter was from the front page of The Onion, a satirical newspaper famous for opinion articles like “Bro, You’re a God Among Bros“.
Now, what is this?
The Onion piece, titled “Bush: Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity is Finally Over“, is obviously satire, but its point is crystal clear: either the new president is disingenuous, or he–in the truest spirit of the phrase–doesn’t know what he is talking about when he speaks.
In comparison, the depth and accuracy of the New York Times articles don’t even come close.
Why the “liberal” press gave Bush a pass is unclear, especially since many intellectuals did think the Texas Governor was an ignorant dry-drunk. Alas, they found a reason: Bush’s perceived intellectual weaknesses (including his abuse of the English language), it was surmised, were little more than a (successful) politician’s electoral mode d’emploi: Bush purposefully played the part of a buck-toothed ignoramus to win the hearts of voters and to dare political opponents to underestimate him.
So when Bush confused his tenses in the NYT article about preparing his inaugural speech, saying ”I thought the Kennedy speech is interesting,” everybody in the newsroom thought they were seeing Nostradamus’ finger on the pulse of fate instead of the downs-syndrome albino kid from Deliverance plucking away at the only thing he could pull off.
The NYT did however, faithfully report Bush’s inaugural theme to “[bring] to the White House a ‘new commitment’ built around character and a steady fidelity to the nation’s common values”. The implied criticism of Tom-Cat Bill Clinton is obvious, and it appears to have been the only category of promise Bush made that he either meant, or understood. Bush faithfully executed otherwise meaningless rituals while in the White House, like making coats a requirement to enter the Oval Office. (Apparently, this was the first Bush rule Obama undid. As put by one Washington Monthly blogger, for Bush and those who served with him respect was “about choice of clothing. For those who serve with Obama, it’s about honoring institutional limits and the rule of law”.
The Bush quote which began this article, which leaves me staggering under its mighty carelessness, was nowhere mentioned in the mainstream press, not even as an aside. I had to go, of course, to Jon Stewart to get the appropriate insight and analysis:
“that’s like walking up to a homeless guy and going ‘imagine if I just gave you thousands of dollars, I bet that would totally change your life. Intruiging to think about in’t it?”
Stewart, visibly exasperated by 8 years of Bush, softened his tone and spoke directly to Bush, “I try to get out, but you keep pulling me back in.”
Now that adults appear to be in charge again in the White House, it would be nice to have grown-up counterparts in the newsrooms. So long as it doesn’t interfere with Mr. Stewart’s biting coverage.