Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bush's Bully Pulpit

Or is that Not-So-Bully pulpit?

Mr. Bush seemed again tonight like he seemed in his public appearances in the week after the mid-term election, not wanting his job much at all, feeling it itching like a suit of steel wool. And so the president relied on his stubbornness to get him to the end of the evening. Two more State of the Union speeches to go. Surely tonight, he's merely glad this one is over.

Not that he is looking forward to next year. Or even to the next year. More than ever, his presidency swims or sinks on one tattered goal, victory, victory somehow, whatever it is, whatever a victory might look like.

And he's not telling us. As I've said before, so he said again tonight: "success" and "victory" and "not failure," but no insightful or even updated clues as to what these things are.

We might think that Mr. Bush and "the White House" and his administration and government in Washington are somehow detached from the rest of the nation, somehow irrelevant. Life goes on. The economy is very good for many. The status quo prevails. Disdain may be widespread, but death and destruction seem to be rare enough to not incite riots or revolution, so why worry? Bush and his cronies will pass.

But indeed, the country is in a shambles. The times are turning downright Nixonian again. Thus far, Mr. Bush has eluded whatever Watergate might befall him, but the damage is pervasive, and not even Nancy Pelosi's presence on the dais can shore up real hope for a resolute change in course.

This was a speech to be watched, a visual spectacle, not one of words. Bush's address fell flat to the ear, but to the eyes, there were the yin and yang of the political season behind Bush.

There, to the president's right, was the slant mouthed Mt. Rushmore visage of a scrunched Dick Cheney in cold gray granite or dusty death-mask marble, looking solidly annoyed, full of disdain throughout, his squint set in stone.

There, to the president's left, was the much more kinetic Pelosi, flittering between grace and gravitas, blinking and squirming like an anxious yet ill-prepared school girl who didn't want to be called upon.

Mr. Cheney seemed reluctant to move, much less add any life to his countenance. He even seemed reluctant to applaud his front man, his talking head ticket to power. It's probably the only time of the year that Mr. Bush stands for an hour with his back to the vice president.

Ms. Pelosi seemed to wrestle inwardly with the timing and nuance of her cues for the chamber, when and how fast to stand. She nearly seemed to jump at times, especially juxtaposed to the suits of stone to her right. Other times, she seemed to be swallowing smirks and the downcast eyes that meant we are boycotting this particular ploy from the bully boy at the helm.

Mr. Bush has become an increasingly flat and illfitting ghost image of himself, the bully not of the pulpit but of the schoolyard, a boy at heart. He stands ill at ease, not caring for the word talk or magisterial wonder of a true peacher, cowed by the wizards who swirl around Washington and around the world. He's no wiz but the prodigal schoolboy, wanting to chomp down on weakness, insisting he gets to kick sand into the faces of those against him. And now, more than ever, there are many.

And so it may be that the next political season is one in which the bully is found lacking and loitering too long, ripe for getting kicked around some himself.


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