Saturday, June 08, 2002

Mark Morford, in his SFGate column yesterday, touched on something that I have been thinking about too; the strange vulnerability President Bush projects. Although he did not use that word exactly, he did describe, accurately I think, the phenomenon:

"...there they are, trying so hard. Especially Bush. Look at that earnest, constipated, caught-in-the-headlights expression. Trying trying trying. Please do not hate him."


."..the common wisdom: It is unpatriotic to criticize the president ...

Or rather, you can criticize if you like, but Bush's image is now being so carefully controlled you feel a little ashamed and slightly guilty doing so, like that feeling you'd get if you teased, say, a quadriplegic. Or a child."

Normally, we Americans treat our Presidents badly. Very badly. It is not, usually, a job for the thin-skinned and sensitive. Which is why there is something disorienting about this administration's constant admonishments against criticism, and their quick to take offense, defensive response to even its mildest forms. Plus, his handlers work 24/7 to provide a steady stream of non-stop excuses or overly detailed explanations for everything and anything: Did the President seem snappish at times in Europe? It was jet lag. Did he stumble and hit his head on a table? Trot out the medical experts and give us a long explanation of how this was really caused by his excellent state of physical fitness.

The truth is, the more "carefully controlled" the President's image is, the more excuses and explanations and spin applied to even the most minute events, the more vulnerable and childlike he seems. The more scripted and handled and protected from the rough and tumble of the political and public arena he is, the lonelier and weaker he appears. The more anxiously they try to protect him from the normal sorts of political abuse, the more anxiously we wonder if he can "take" the normal sorts of political stress.

His army of image spinners are hoping, of course, to present us with John Wayne; a strong, plain spoken man of the West. But what we're getting, at best, is Roy Rogers; a cleaned-up cowboy with a whiff of the nursery about him who never gets his hands, or his richly embroidered and fringed shirt, dirty. Or, at worse, a Roy Rogers fan; a little boy in felt cowboy hat and tooled boots playing alone with his shiny cap pistol.

Morford complains that this over-protectiveness doesn't allow us to "hate" the President. My complaint is that it doesn't allow us to laugh at him.

Morford's column:


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