The question, at this point, is: Can Bush stand opposition?
Up to now, I’ve felt that Bush had the psychological strength to contain the anger and arrogance that underlies much of his behavior. Observing his press conference in the Rose Garden on Friday, however, I’m not so sure anymore. Bush pulled off the Presidency perfectly well when things were going his way and people deferred to him (or cowered). (I’m speaking mentally, not politically.)
With the teflon all but gone, however, he’s starting to come apart whenever challenged. You can hear it in his tone, and you can see it in his body language. Besides Friday, it was quite evident, for example, in the recent “walk and talk” interviews Bush gave to Brian Williams in New Orleans and to Charles Gibson in Atlanta. (I used one image from the Gibson interview recently, but not in this context.)
Gibson decided to take Bush on regarding the tactic of questioning the capacity of Democrats to keep America secure. The blogosphere took good note of Bush’s agitated response. I’m not sure the ‘sphere, however, picked up the psychological fine points. Of course, Bush got offended. If you watch the video, however, you’ll see he also became retaliatory. (As retaliatory as one can get in a supposedly civil, grown-up conversation on national television.) A typical reaction of this kind involves a person aggressively moving forward into somebody else’s physical space. If you notice, Bush literally gets into Gibson’s face.
The more diagnostic reaction came next, however. Like any good stage actor (and, especially one who spends most of his time being filmed and photographed), Bush knows exactly where the cameras are and where to stand. Literally unable to contain himself, however, Bush pivoted around and stepping in front of the camera, blocking the picture and denying Gibson visual access.
This need to “make it go away” is a very primitive response. Not just angered by being opposed, Bush’s immediate move to censor, or cut things off, evidences a subtle, but despairing psychological act. (You could actually see a similar form of behavior during Friday’s press conference. Bush reacted so angrily to early questions challenging his intelligence policy, he started filibustering, talking as long as he could to answer, thereby forestalling more questions — and the need to, again, get himself worked up. (At one point, he even quipped to a reporter who had asked a long-winded question: “I’m not going to apologize for talking too long.”)
Behaviorally, these are troubling signs. Short of compromise (and the ego blow that seems to cause), where does Bush go if the outright opposition doesn’t stop?
(images: abcnews.go.com. Atlanta. Sept. 7, 2006.)