January 5, 2006

Bush's Happy New Ear


Lawrence Eagleburger, a Secretary of State under the first President Bush, told reporters that Mr. Bush had come in for some criticism that he had not talked to the people enough, but that it had been mild. “When you are in the presence of the president of the United States, I don’t care if you’ve been a devout Democrat for the last hundred years, you’re likely to pull your punches to some degree,” Mr. Eagleburger said.

–Snippet from today’s NYT article:  Bush and Former Cabinet Members Discuss Topic No. 1: Iraq.

Sure, the pictures from Bush’s White House nostalgia summit with former Secretaries of Defense and State were dramatic.

Capt.Whre10701051630.Bush Iraq Whre107

There was Robert MacNamara, the father of the Vietnam War, pointing a finger at President Bush.


And the crowd around Nixon’s Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird made it almost seem like Tricky Dick was back to kick around some more.


Also, there was Colin Powell leaning forward — half out of synch with the old team, just like before — alongside Condi at the conference table.

Still, the most telling image relating to the event was not photographed or published today.  Instead, it ran the day before in a NYT article (From Cabinet Rooms Past, a Gathering to Assess Iraq – link) previewing this extravaganza.

That file photo, of Bush groping Colin Powell on the General’s doorstep, was actually taken in late May.  The context involved Bush showing up at  the former Secretary of State’s house for dinner (the photographic press in tow) just a few days before Tony Blair’s pre-G-8 Summit visit to Washington.  To refresh your memory, Blair (in a push to finally assert himself with Bush) had made a fairly big deal about how he was going to force the U.S. to dramatically step up its financial commitment to Africa.

In my mind, the recycling of this image in advance of today’s reunion was a clever bit of editorializing on the part of The Times.  If not blatantly obvious by now, today’s hoopla was the latest demonstration of a Bush make-over the Administration had been test marketing for about a month prior to the holidays, that has now gained full bloom.

Simply put, the White House has replaced Stubborn Bush with Humble Bush.  (I can only assume Karen Hughes got sick of hearing “W” being referred to as “Bubble Boy.”)  In this new version, the President’s new primary anatomical part (in a move way northward) is his ear.  The only problem with the strategy, however, is that it has been conceived and implemented by people who couldn’t be more deaf to subtlety.  How else can you explain our recent inundation with examples of Bush’s collaboration and culpability?

To almost everyone who was paying attention, however, today’s special episode of  “And You Were There” had a disingenuous ring from the start.  Perhaps the biggest give-away was the Administration’s characterization of the gathering as a “briefing.”  In bringing together this august body of State and Defense leaders, the characterization telegraphed an attitude that was all “give” an no “take.”

Which brings us back to the “guess who’s coming to dinner” photo.

In that instance, it was the all-too-prone looking Powell who served as the prop.  Apparently, BushCo. was assuming that the embrace of a former aid with an expressed solidarity for Africa would somehow transmit the idea the solidarity was mutual.  In fixing on that shot, The Times could float the idea that today’s meeting was about the appearance of the gathering — the glad-handing and the mugging — at the expense of the gathering itself.

(assist to Salam)

(image 1: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press.  May 31, 2005.  Washington.  nyt.com.  image 2: Evan Vucci/A.P. January 5, 2005.  White House.  Via YahooNews.  image 3:  Kevin Lamarque/Reuters. January 5, 2005.  White House.  Via YahooNews. image 4:  Evan Vucci/A.P. January 5, 2005.  White House.  Via YahooNews.)

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Michael Shaw
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