Thursday, October 07, 2004

Can Bush Handle his Dependencies?

The Gadflyer examines the first debate between Bush and Kerry and labels Bush's behavior a "drunken rage." Through the lens of those suffering from alcoholism, gadflyer makes some DAMN good points, too. Focusing on character flaws deep within the President, this may be the best analysis I've seen about what went wrong with the debate, and also with this Presidency.

Bottled up

Last Thursday the President's endemic character flaws were exposed plainly, for all to see. Absent his handlers and note cards and teleprompters, we saw into his very core. At least four truths about the President's personality – many of them long-suspected – were confirmed by his on-stage behavior in Miami:

He was too lazy and selfish to bother preparing. Bush was a mediocre student at Andover who nevertheless got into Yale; a mediocre Yalie who nevertheless got into Harvard Business School; and, despite scoring in the bottom quartile on the Air National Guard exam, he got a coveted billet ahead of hundreds above him on the list to fly in Texas rather than grab a rifle and helmet to fight for his country in Southeast Asia. Given how far he's gone without really trying, why would we expect him to prepare for a debate?

Bush's nonchalance disrespected all of those who donated money to his campaign or volunteered to hand out palm cards and register voters; the staffers who have worked 80-hour weeks on his behalf; and, heck, even those "unaffiliated" Swift Boaters who engaged in "uncoordinated" efforts to help get him re-elected. Their collective investments in Bush during the past year or two were erased in less than ninety minutes because their president was too lazy to validate all their hard work by doing a little homework of his own.

He is a pathological name-dropper. The single thread woven throughout the entirety of Bush's life is the access and invidious influence his family name has provided him. A dropped name has often delivered to Bush what others must work to achieve. And the names – from Ben Barnes back in his draft-dodging days to James Baker during the Florida recount – are too numerous to list.

So when Bush began to stagger in Miami, he reached out for the vicarious legitimacy that others have always provided him: Betcha didn't know I talk with Director Mueller – every day, in fact. Tony Blair is a strong ally of mine, and so is Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski. Prime Minister Allawi told me things are progressing in Iraq, and don't you dare denigrate Mr. Allawi. And Vladurmur, Dear Vladurmur – he knows me, he can vouch for my soul like I did his.

He is a terrible listener. Countless conservative commentators on television, radio, or on websites lamented that Bush repeatedly fumbled easy opportunities to point out contradictions in Kerry's statements, or to rebut the Senator's statements with ready examples or tip-of-the-finger facts. Belligerent and scowling, the teetering president let himself be distracted from doing what a good debater does, namely, listen carefully to his opponent's answers, and prepare the most relevant and proportional response. Instead he swung wildly, missing his punches, leaving himself open.

Again, the parallels here are obvious, and voluminous: Bush didn't want to hear critics' warnings about post-war complications in Iraq; he didn't want to hear the recommendations about troop size; etc. On most days, others pay the price for his petulance. On Thursday, his tin ear and dulled senses cost him dearly.

He is impatient to a fault. Bush could hardly wait for the red-yellow-green light system to offer his replies, and urged moderator Jim Lehrer to extend the discussion another 30 seconds for each candidate. (Once, Bush so lost his cool that he started to interject even though he was entitled to an automatic, 90-second rebuttal.) Champing at the bit prevented Bush from thinking carefully about how to deliver appropriate replies. And so he blurted out dumb answers, like his most embarrassing line of the night: "I know Osama bin Laden attacked us – I know that."

This was the most ironic of Bush's flaws on display, for he was demonstrating impatience at the very moment Kerry was criticizing him for it, such as in the hasty re-allocation of troops from Afghanistan to Iraq.
So, let's watch whether he addresses any of his character flaws when the second debate comes up. My guess is that he might be better prepared this time, but that we'll see the name-dropping again, and the smirks and the petulance. Some things it will be impossible for him to expunge.