There are at least three ways to look at this photo that appeared last Saturday in the NYT.
You could try and figure out where Bush’s head is at. You could draw inferences about the mood, creativity or bias of the guy who took the picture. Or, you could make some larger interpretations about what the layout might say.
Figuring out “where Bush’s head is at” does not suggest some kind of hatchet job. I’m referring to drawing out some of the mindless ways in which the administration operates, as well as better understanding the first couple as a brain trust. I’m talking about how Bush tends to act without really thinking things through. I’m referring to the way he’s always gesticulating. (If you watch his body language these days In his role as Social Security traveling salesman, he spends an inordinate amount of time slicing the air.) I’m referring to the way he’s so physical, hyperkinetic and imposing, while Laura seems so mannequin-like and emotionally disembodied. At the same time, she’s also framed more and more these days as an icon of moral goodness.
I think it’s valid to consider the mindset of the photographer when you get a photo as unusual as this. Perhaps Doug Mills was just trying to be artistic. On the other hand, maybe he was visually — although, I’m sure, not consciously — expressing reservations about the self-serving “Helping America’s Youth” campaign Mrs. Bush is leading in the name of mostly black and mostly poor American boys. (And, if a press photographer was making such a statement, it would be hard blame him, considering how few others in the media seem to be scratching their heads over it.)
If you’ve been following the BAG, you know I’ve had a pretty strong reaction to this campaign from the outset. (New Head of the Passport Office – link). Since my original post, Mrs. Bush has also starting dragging George to these gratuitous photo ops. The second one was about a month ago at the Providence Family Support Center in Pittsburgh (link). The photo above was shot at the most recent event (link), last week, at the Paul Public Charter School in Washington. As part of the hoopla, the Bush’s even met privately with children who have parents in jail. (Following the meetings, Bush took the opportunity to again recommend that religious organizations be given parity with non-religious organization in securing federal contracts.)
Of course, it is easy to dismiss this photo as overly creative or partisan. But I think it does reinforce some emerging themes. As I mentioned in my Cedar Rapids post, I think that Bush just doesn’t have his head in the job the way he did before. Also, given the way Frist and DeLay engineered the Schiavo strategy, it seems Bush’s days as party head are already dwindling. Basically, I read this image in the form of a few questions. How fast is the window closing on GWB? Outside the true loyalists, how intently is anyone listening? Who else can keep this podium in hand?
(image: Doug Mills for The New York Times)