The president's loose grip


Tim Grieve
August 13, 2004 10:53PM (UTC)

George W. Bush did an hour on Larry King Live Thursday evening. It was a rare unscripted performance, and it showed -- as much as anything else -- just how shielded the president is from the rest of the country.

Bush admitted as much late in the hour. When King asked Bush whether the people he "runs into" say that they support him or that they're undecided, Bush said: "I run into both. And when you say, 'run in,' the president doesn't 'run into' anybody."

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Bush seemed to write off his isolation as an inevitable part of the presidency. It is, and it isn't. Presidents don't do their own grocery shopping, and they don't chew the fat down at the corner barber shop. But there's nothing in the Constitution that requires presidents to appear before invitation-only crowds, nothing that requires that "Ask the President" events feature only questions designed to highlight the White House talking points of the day. There's nothing that prohibits the president from reading newspapers.

Bush has chosen to isolate himself from the electorate, and he doesn't seem to recognize the effect of his decision. When King asked about anger in America Thursday night, Bush said: "I think there may be handfuls of people that are very emotional." Bush seemed to confuse his stage-managed events with real life, forgetting -- or choosing to ignore the fact -- that the people at campaign events are invited guests of the Republican Party, that the Secret Service keeps protestors out of the president's sight.

"When I travel the country, and I've been traveling a lot, there are thousands of people who come out and wave, and they are -- you know, they respect the presidency," Bush said. "Sometimes they like the president, but I have this -- I don't have a sense that there's a lot of anger."

Laura Bush, who appeared alongside her husband, seemed to have a better grasp on things. When King asked why the presidential race is so close, she said: "I mean, look at the last election. I think, you know, I think the United States is divided, as they say." When the first lady said she thought that the division in the country hadn't changed since 2000, the president cut in and said, "But we'll see. You are speculating here in August."

Bush said that the race is still young, and that "I've got a lot of explanations to give on decisions I have made."

He did a little of that Thursday night. He explained that he never "really" opposed the creation of the 9/11 commission, even though he said that he opposed it back in 2002. He explained that, when he said at a campaign event this week that a national sales tax was an "interesting idea that we ought to explore seriously," he only meant that "we ought to explore ways to simplify the tax code." Defending his "coalition" in Iraq, Bush said that countries like "Japan or South Korea or Denmark or Holland" have "made sacrifices like we have," even though, between them, they appear to have lost at most two soliders in Iraq.

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And when King asked Bush why, on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, he had declared the battle of Iraq over, Bush explained that he "didn't say that. Now let's be careful about that." Yes, let's be careful. What Bush actually said was: "In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."

George W. Bush did an hour on Larry King Live Thursday evening. It was a rare unscripted performance, and it showed -- as much as anything else -- just how shielded the president is from the rest of the country.

Bush admitted as much late in the hour. When King asked Bush whether the people he "runs into" say they support him or that they don't know, Bush said: "I run into both. And when you say, 'run in,' the president doesn't 'run into' anybody."

Bush seemed to write off his isolation as an inevitable part of the presidency. It is, and it isn't. Presidents don't do their own grocery shopping, and they don't chew the fat down at the corner barber shop. But there's nothing in the Constitution that requires presidents to appear before invitation-only crowds, nothing that requires that "Ask the President" events feature only questions designed to highlight the White House talking points of the day. There's nothing that prohibits the president from reading newspapers.

Advertisement:

Bush has chosen to isolate himself from the electorate, and he doesn't seem to recognize the effect of his decision. When King asked about anger in America Thursday night, Bush said: "I think there may be handfuls of people that are very emotional." Bush seemed to confuse his stage-managed events with real life, forgetting -- or choosing to ignore the fact -- that the people at campaign events are invited guests of the Republican Party, that the Secret Service keeps protestors out of the president's sight.

"When I travel the country, and I've been traveling a lot, there are thousands of people who come out and wave, and they are -- you know, they respect the presidency," Bush said. "Sometimes they like the president, but I have this -- I don't have a sense that there's a lot of anger."

Laura Bush, who appeared alongside her husband, seemed to have a better grasp on things. When King asked why the presidential race is so close, she said: "I mean, look at the last election. I think, you know, I think United States is divided, as they say." When the first lady said that she didn't think the division in the country had changed since 2000, the president cut in and said, "But we'll see. You are speculating here in August."

Advertisement:

Bush said that the race is still young. "I've got a lot of explanations to give on decisions I have made," he said.

He did a little of that Thursday night. He explained that he never "really" opposed the creation of the 9/11 commission, even though he said that he opposed it back in 2002. He explained that, when he said at a campaign event this week that a national sales tax was an "interesting idea that we ought to explore seriously," he only meant that "we ought to explore ways to simplify the tax code." Defending his "coalition" in Iraq, Bush said that countries like "Japan or South Korea or Denmark or Holland" have "made sacrifices like we have, even though, between them, they appear to have lost at mosttwo soliders in Iraq.

And when King asked Bush why, on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, he had declared the battle of Iraq over, Bush explained that he "didn't say that. Now let's be careful about that." Yes, let's be careful. What Bush actually said was: "In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."

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Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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