September 8th, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man

I Think He's Counting the Days

I remember reading somewhere, but I don't remember where, so it might have been in a work of fiction, but I remember reading somewhere that the President of the United States actually has two desks. The Oval Office is usually used for meetings. But anybody who's ever sat in a meeting, let alone too many meetings, knows that no matter who you are or what your work style, there comes a time when you have to actually get some work done in private, or semi-private. To that end, I've heard that the President usually also has a small office, basically a home office, in the Residence.

If this is true, then I get the vague sense that there's a page at a glance desk calendar on the desk in Bush the Younger's residence, and today's page has the number 1,230 in the corner, maybe with a circle around it. 1230 days until he gets to quit this job. I can't shake the suspicion that some time in the last few months he went through and numbered the pages, and I'll bet that the day can't come too soon for him.

I forget which past president it was who said that no matter what anybody says, if they somebody says that they're looking forward to no longer being president of the US, they're lying. Whoever it was, his point was that nobody walks away from that much power, from that much leverage, from that much being the center of attention, from that much respect from the people around you, willingly. But then, whoever that president was, that was before George Walker Bush. It's not just that he looks tired. Frankly, by year 5 of an 8 year presidency, everybody looks tired, and I know that. The job ages you even faster than being an NFL linebacker. Guys usually go into that job looking young and vigorous, and come out of it with posture shot, face deeply lined, skin gone gray (except for a few who've hidden it with deep tans or heavy makeup), and hair gone completely white ... even presidents who've retired fairly young, like Carter and Clinton. So no, that's not why I think he's counting the days. Let me make a few points:

One: He's Just Phoning It In Now. After 9-11, when he got over looking scared, once Rudy Giuliani sewed them back onto him, Bush looked actually excited to be president. He had a full range of emotions, but the volume was perceptibly turned up on all of them. When he was with grieving families, he looked genuinely concerned. When he was standing on the rubble pile, he looked genuinely pumped up. When he went on TV, he looked genuinely ticked off. And the next time he went on vacation, he looked almost frenetic, like he had a lot of energy to work off. Now compare that to the flat affect we saw even before Katrina, during his vacation even: I've known people with severe Asperger's who showed more enthusiasm and had a broader range of facial expressions. And after Katrina, with Karl Rove breathing down his neck and threatening apocalypse if the president didn't show some human anger and human concern and some genuinely hurt feelings over the attacks against the administration, he still couldn't manage to show any of those emotions. He just looked tired.

Two: He Keeps Complaining About the Work. Every presidential candidate, let alone president, has a phrase that his advisors are trying to beat out of him. Bush's most obnoxious verbal tic is, "Look, (some group that doesn't agree with him) needs to understand, (whatever policy he's trying to defend) is hard work." He's always said that. By now, I'm sure his speechwriters and advisors have given up on explaining to him just how brutal and condescending the phrase "look, you have to understand" is, and how unsympathetic most Americans are when he calls his job "hard work;" by now, they know it's a habit they can't break him of. But now he's using it three, four, five times per public appearance. Sometimes he even says it twice or more in a row.

Three: This Has Been a Long Time, to Him. I don't have his resumé and c.v. memorized completely, and I'm bad with dates, so correct me if I'm wrong. But isn't five years way longer any other job he's ever held before?

Four: This Isn't the Job He Was Promised. And we all know, don't we, just how much that sucks? Your boss hires you for a job, describes all the stuff you're looking forward to working on or with ... and then it turns out that that's only a small fraction of the job, and the rest is drudgery. Or else you get to do that part of the job for a month, then there's a re-org and you get stuck with work you hate while somebody else in another department gets the work that you liked. We all know how much that sucks.

Now ask yourself this: how did they get George W. Bush to agree to run for president in the first place? Unlike almost every other presidential candidate of the last 40 years, there's no evidence in his background that he ever wanted the job, let alone prepared for it. He's taken jobs before, but never one with long hours or hard work involved. Even when you're governor of Texas, Texas (like Missouri) is a state where the governor doesn't actually have that much to do, the legislature and the civil service bureaucracy and the public sector unions make all the decisions and do all the work; you just sign things or veto them, without even studying them if you don't want to, and give a couple of speeches a year. There are states where being governor is a full-time hard-work job, I'm told, but Texas isn't one of them. And do you think they got George Bush to do this because he felt he owed it to his family out of loyalty? It is to laugh; if Bush were that loyal to his elders, he'd have had a different childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.

No, I'm pretty sure that Bush's dad's inner circle took the governor aside and asked him to run. And he almost certainly turned them down, until they made certain promises to him. And I'd just about bet cash money that one of those promises was this: any part of the job that wasn't interesting to him, he wouldn't have to do. He could delegate all the hard work to the staff, to his kitchen cabinet, to the Republican leadership in both houses of Congress. I'm sure, based on what we've heard from people who were in the administration at the beginning, that they told him that he was going to war in Iraq. But I'll bet they promised him that he wouldn't have to worry about it, that they had a fool-proof plan that would make it easy, that wouldn't require any management from him, and that when it was done the Iraqis would be enthusiastically lining up to thank him for freeing them from Saddam Hussein. (I'll also bet that someone suggested to him that this would make him look smarter and tougher than his dad, something we know that he cares about.)

I'll bet he's spent years now going to bed each night grumbling about those ungrateful Iraqis.

Five: Too Much of This Job Reminds Him of the Things He Hates about His Family. Never forget that it was Bush's family who arranged the intervention that got him into rehab for his alcoholism. Never forget that Bush was nagged his whole life about his alcoholism, his various screw-ups, and if he was (as everybody but a handful of blindfolded partisans admits) deep into cocaine use, his family almost certainly nagged him about that. Anybody who's ever had a teenager, or who even has a friend who's the parent of a teenager, knows how they get if they feel like they're being picked on unfairly: sullen, surly, even less communicative, and a little paranoid.

Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11 visibly, obviously got George Bush's goat. So did Molly Ivin's book Shrub. The man is perceptibly thin-skinned. And I'd bet money that he feels that the president of the US is entitled to more respect, and more benefit of the doubt, than he gets, without even counting any respect or deference or trust he's entitled to while the country is under attack from foreign enemies! Everything bad that happens, whether it's unrest in Venezuela or rising oil prices or Israeli/Palestinian violence or military recruitment shortfalls or rising inflation or drought in the midwest or collapsing levees in New Orleans, everybody blames George Bush. And that would be bad enough, but on top of that they ask the two questions he always hated when his family asked them: "What were you thinking?" and "What are you going to do about it?" Look, alcoholics and drug addicts can't answer those questions. They don't know the answers to those questions. So they get sick of being asked. So I guarantee you, George Bush was sick of having his motives, his thought processes, or his plans to do differently next time questioned long before he was sworn in five and a half years ago.

He can't quit now, not without making his life even worse than it is. (And don't wish that he would. Two words: President Cheney.) So all he can do is get up this morning, turn the page that says 1,230 in the corner, and drag himself miserably through yet another gawd-awful day of having to keep being President of the United States.

(P.S. The previous offer is still open. Only 18 questions or so? I was worried there'd be more like a hundred. Go ahead, go back a day and ask me something if you haven't already.)