Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Up Is Down and Down Is Up

With all the talk about George W. Bush -- so much recently dominated by the ramp-up to the Iraqi war, Katrina, Jack Abramoff, wire taps, Cheney's shooting, Supreme Court missteps, Abu Gharib, forcing federal scientists to lie ... and that's it -- I was really stunned to read a passage from this dual book review in the NY Times. The piece discusses two wildly opposing viewpoints on Bush-43 as two conservatives (one, a Fox News mouthpiece; the other, a Reaganite) see the same characteristics, namely Bush's desire for focusing on quick results and not means or relationships, through two varied lenses. It's all what one would expect; that is, except for this bit, from the pro-Bush tome:

Mr. Bush "has used his presidential speeches to advance policies far beyond where his aides expected him to go," that "rather than reflect policy, his speeches dictate policy." Typically, he notes, the Bush speechwriting process begins with a meeting between the president and Michael Gerson, his former chief speechwriter turned policy adviser. Once drafted, the speech is circulated at the White House but "is not open to debate."

"This is the first time most White House and administration officials see a speech," Mr. Barnes writes. "It already has the president's imprimatur. Advisers are free to recommend a change in wording, but Bush does not tolerate attempts to alter the general direction of a speech."

In the case of the second Inaugural Address, which declared that spreading liberty around the world was "the calling of our time," Mr. Barnes reports that Mr. Bush teased Condoleezza Rice, saying "You're not going to believe what I say." Ms. Rice reportedly responded, "I hope I get to see it before you give it." What she and other senior Bush advisers later saw, Mr. Barnes goes on, "was a near-final draft to which only minor changes could be made." He continues, The thrust of the speech — the new direction, the policy declaration — had been set."

I've always worked on the belief that Bush was a man who relied on advisors to set policy, to tell him which way was North. Karl Rove was the "puppet-master" making Bush's C-student mouth say what appeased whoever it is that runs the GOP these days. To imagine Bush actually writing his speeches -- and refusing to let bright people like Rice edit the content -- frankly blows my mind. I knew he wasn't "open for debate" with Democrats, or anyone who might disagree with him, but he's surrounded by his own people in the West Wing! And he's still isolating himself from others' opinions? Its been well-documented that the president operates in a bubble -- only getting news from Fox and memos, scripted press conferences, etc. -- but to only wrap that bubble around one's own head (aside from the occassional wordsmith) really alters my perception.


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