Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Bush & reality

I don't know if anyone would believe me that I have some non-partisan comments to make about Bush, but I'll try anyway.

Reading through the roundtable interview with the president in the latest "Touchstone" magazine (sorry, this article is unavailable online as well. I'm not getting a kickback from these guys -- really, I'm not.), I felt myself getting restless. Bush isn't doing as well in the polls, I'm mulling over his hapless performance at the debate last week -- I was looking for some kind of reason to feel good about it all.

The author, James Kushiner, didn't seem to be obliging me. As he reports on the meeting that Bush had with nine Christian editors, Kushiner appears to be looking for something as well and not finding it. He reports about the security check, he tells of seeing Teddy Roosevelt's Nobel peace prize. When Bush enters and begins, Kushiner is dutifully lifting a few quotes, but his focus is so obviously not on Bush's words that you can almost feel your own eyes wandering around the room. Bush talks to them about homeland security, about faith-based initiatives, about taking a stand against same-sex marriage ... his words seem right, but not new. Nothing unexpected. I think if I had been in the room, I might have been wondering at this point, "What are we here for? What do you want from us? We could've read all this in a press release."

It seems to me that the further away Bush gets from the usual talking points, the more his own unique voice comes out. He talks about the need to express faith openly ("People say, 'When do you pray?' I pray at all times. All the time."), about meeting the Pope, about the place of Israel ("I've been to Israel. I view it as the Holy Land as well. I view it as a precious piece of ground."). These aren't the big vote-getting topics, and his speech doesn't seem crafted. It's as if he really wanted to tell Christian writers about how he sees these things.

When Bush is finished talking, someone asks him what the hardest aspect of the war is for him personally.
The president didn't flinch. "The death. That's the hardest part of any war. Knowing that a mother, father, husband, wife, son, daughter is lonely and sad and grieves because of the loss of a loved one ... Part of my job is to comfort as best I can. I also get sustained by the loved ones. ... You hear amazing statements from the mouths of these grieving souls that many times are inspired by the Almighty. It's a powerful reaffirmation of faith -- how the grief comes -- such hopeful words and such sustaining words."

I can't read this without remembering him speaking about this during the debate, and it seems as it did then -- artless, incautious. Genuine. These aren't the sound-bytes of someone who is posturing. It was almost as if at that point in the debate, he wanted to communicate something that he considered of more importance than who is the next president. It was as if he wanted most of all to tell everyone what it's like to be the president who sends Americans to war and spends time with the grieving and wounded and hears what they say. And wants to put it into words that the rest of us will understand.

After the panel ended, Kurshiner says
I asked one of the other participants who has known Bush for years what he is really like, and he answered, "What you see is what you get." That's what impressed me as well.

I guess that's what I consider an amazing thing, so amazing really that it just dawned on me after seeing Bush last Thursday: He's managed to hold on to his humanity to a surprising degree. It seems like what you see is what you get. He was acting annoyed with Kerry because he was annoyed with Kerry. He almost forgot all the rules of the debate and started arguing with him about whether or not to have multi-lateral talks with North Korea.

I can keep my promise that these observations aren't meant as partisanship. This ingenuousness might even seem to some like a liability. It might seem inappropriately naive or immature. Maybe they think Bush is heartless or foolish.

But it will have me tuning in to the next presidential debate looking at it with different eyes. It must be amazing to have had the experience of a war-time president. I want to see what else of that Bush can't put into words.


Blogger Karl Thienes said...

Interesting....I had the same reaction when I read this article last week.

Almost like Bush was bored or something and had to fall back on the tired stump lines...

October 6, 2004 at 3:33 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

That could've been it too. I can certainly be bi-partisan about my condolences to all FOUR of these guys on how exhausting it must be to be constantly blippin' from state to state trying to impress everybody and keep from making any goofs. Especially when people are so dang picky, sometimes just for the fun of it.

Case in point: Kerry went to Wisconsin a month ago and in the interest of sounding folksy, he congratulated them on their stadium but mispronounced it. Apparently his rating in Wisconsin has been down ever since. Good grief! Cut the guy a break, cheese-heads!

October 8, 2004 at 8:00 AM  
Blogger Grace said...

This is a follow-up after the second debate:

I think I got it a little wrong. My little theory is that Bush was wanting to convery something personal and that that was what was his biggest obstacle in the first debate. Having seen the second one though, it seems that his problem was that he wanted to be connect with an audience, not a commentator who is purposely going to keep a poker face.

October 10, 2004 at 9:40 AM  

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