Okay, so let’s turn to the visual bunk from Kennebunkport, or 41 + 43 = KGB, or what The Economist labeled “The Lobster Summit.”
For your 4th of July enjoyment, why not a “top three things wrong with these pictures.”
1. Ultimate Staginess
When you have an already-adolescent President with his job in free fall, it only makes sense to land your psuedo-summit at Poppy’s house. It’s called regression.
What was particularly interesting about this shot, however, was the “phoniness trifecta.” First, it centers chaperone Poppy standing watch over things. Second, it offers us Pooty stooping (rather unsuccessfully) to show the assembled press he’s not just a robot. Third, it highlights the uncooperative weather, which more than a few news outlets incorporated in various ways as a more truthful metaphor for U.S. Russia relations.
2. No Mrs. Putin
The PR line was that this summit would be a warm, fuzzy, bonding, “my-good-friend-Pooty-who-I-can-see-by-looking-into-his-eyes” family affair. The NYT, for example, fed it back hook-line-and-sinker. Not only did their preview show Bush doin’ the gazin’-thing, the first paragraph was thick with the family meme.
… he and President Bush were planning to mix the relaxation of family and fishing…
…On the schedule for later Sunday night was a family dinner of lobster and swordfish…
The family b.s. comes through nicely in these two snippets from Tony Snow during the White House Press Gaggle the Thursday before.
First off, you get the tone of what Poppy Bush referred to as the chance to: “sit down, no necktie, sit in a beautiful house overlooking the sea, and talk frankly without a lot of straphangers”:
Q Do you have any more about what the program will be of the Presidents this weekend, because yesterday they were sort of a vague, well, they’ll be meeting but there’s not a specific —
MR. SNOW: No, it’s really not a program. Again, you’re having conversations between the two Presidents. This is a chance for them to talk about a whole bunch of stuff. They’ll do it, but again, we tried to make it clear — you know, don’t expect communiques and formal announcements and that kind of thing. This is a chance for them to continue a personal relationship that’s valuable….
And then, quite logically, you get the “family follow-up”:
MR. SNOW: Do you know when the First Lady gets in?
MR. DECKARD: I believe tonight. She comes in tomorrow. But I’ll double-check and get you that.
MR. SNOW: Yes, we’ll get back when we get the schedule.
Q Mrs. Putin is not here; she’s not coming?
MR. SNOW: I don’t believe so. Keep in mind, he’s on his way to South America. This is — he’s sort of stopping here on the way through.
So that was a quick lobster dinner and a quick pancake breakfast, I guess — a “two day” legacy-fest somehow compressed into less than 24 hours.
But that makes perfect sense, since the totalitarian leader — who recently likened Bush’s foreign policy to the Nazi’s — had his own pressing business to attend to with the Americas, fitting in the fish-fry between an arms-dealing conclave with Hugo Chavez in Moscow and major trade talks with superpower-to-be, Guatemala.
To get a real sense of how awkward, forced and breathlessly staged this whole business was, however, click through the BBC “Meet The Bush’s” slideshow of the Pooty arrival.
What’s your favorite? Was it shot number #1, highlighting the predominance of Poppy? Or, Laura’s embarrassing fixing of Pooty’s collar right after he stepped out of the limo? (And what was that about, besides the Bush 41 family lack of boundaries? …Perhaps Laura was making a little statement about the lack of Lyudmila?) Or, was it the arrival of the “It girl,” with Condi rushing into the arms of the little dictator?
3. More Seeing What You Want To See
Okay, so it’s probably something any of us might have done in a similar social situation. In this case, though, it also fits a pattern — a character defect — that has put the country in deep water. It’s called lying.
The question is, did Putin catch the striped bass? Bush made a big point of saying that Vladimir caught the only fish, while Putin insisted it was a group effort. You can see as much as Jr. stares at the press and goes rah-rah, anticipating the trophy pic to follow. The “critical factor,” I believe, is first-nephew, Billy Bush, who was creatively labeled in photo captions as a “fishing guide.”
If politics is mostly PR, a key requirement of the job is to distinguish reality from artifice. There is no way to prove it, of course, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bush really believes (or does, by now) that Putin caught that fish all by himself.
(photo credits to follow)