July 22, 2006

A Touching Man

(Revised 8:33 pm:  Yep.  Makes more sense now.)


Over the past month or so, The BAG has registered an uptick in mail regarding Bush’s tendency to hug, kiss or put his hands all over people.  Whether you attribute the behavior to a frat boy’s defiant lack of boundaries or an infant’s urgent need to be “all there is,” we’re still talking about someone who never learned to play grown up.

The behavior is not the same in all cases.  Sometimes, it has to do with establishing parity in the presence of people or situations where Bush feels less than equal.  Other times, it’s more simply the (supposed) cool guy’s exaggerated attempt to step off the pedestal and make contact.  At other points, it seems like a caveman’s neutralization or intimidation tactic.


What is especially scary is that this behavior is becoming more frequent in high visibility, high stakes situations.  Contributing to the stress is Bush’s new emphasis on collaboration.  (In the unilateralist mode, you could just bypass the pretense of getting along with anybody.)  Also, Bush is now having to spend much greater emotional energy to contain his humiliation over (the increasingly evident) loss of the Iraq war.

As the guardedness breaks down, Bush’s awkwardness and anxiety is now surfacing more often at exactly the wrong time. (Witness the open microphone incident at the summit last week.  Also, I’m also wondering just how pressure he actually applied to Congressman Green’s face at the NAACP conference.)  As a result, we are seeing less of the uhh, umm, I, uh ummmmm, and more outright examples of physical symbiosis, interpersonal rope-a-dope, and various gestural forms of “throwing one’s weight around.”


The victims are piling up of late.  I never thought I’d feel for a steely KGB agent.  Still, the almost continuous hugging and touching Putin had to endure before and throughout the G-8 summit was nothing short of relentless.

(image 1: Grigory Dukor/Reuters.  Strelna, Russia, July 14, 2006.  Via YahooNews.  image 2: Jason Reed/Reuters. Washington July 20, 2006.  image 3: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters.  St.Petersburg, July 15, 2006.  Via YahooNews.)

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Michael Shaw
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