Bush's new strategy: Appear less smart

The White House thinks that they key to reviving Bush's political fortunes is to make him look like more of a regular guy.

By Farhad Manjoo
April 3, 2006 7:31PM (UTC)
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Seven or eight long years ago, when political insiders first began talking about George W. Bush as a sure thing for the White House, many who heard the would-be president speak for the first time were, to put it mildly, a little bit surprised. Do you remember that feeling? In primary debates or television interviews, alongside even such lowlights as Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer, Bush would say something and your first reaction was, Wait -- that guy? This is the man they're saying will win this thing? Indeed, for all the many reasons there are to dislike the current president, to this day the most salient, obvious, irrefutable cause for many on the left is Bush's less-than-stellar off-the-cuff banter, his tendency to say things that simply make you cringe in embarrassment for him. It's perhaps a good measure of the White House's desperation, then, that, as the Washington Post reports today, Bush's aides have recently seen fit to highlight the president's penchant for saying some really stupid things. If looking silly worked for Bush before, they must figure, maybe it'll do the trick again.

"As he takes to the road to salvage his presidency, Bush is letting down his guard and playing up his anti-intellectual, regular-guy image," the paper says, implying that there was a time when Bush sought to show us his pro-intellectual side (but then again, I've never read "The Very Hungry Caterpillar"). The Post continues: "Where he spent last year in rehearsed forums with select supporters, these days he is more frequently throwing aside the script and opening himself to questions from audiences that are not prescreened. These sessions have put a sometimes playful, sometimes awkward side back on display after years of trying to keep it under control to appear more presidential."


One example the paper cites occurred in a Q&A session last week, when a man got up to ask a question and Bush cut him off with a discussion of his upcoming summit meeting in Cancun, Mexico. Here's how the official transcript renders the moment: "Final question. Then I'm going down to be with the President of Mexico and the Prime Minister of Canada -- Cancun. (Laughter.) No Speedo suit here. (Laughter.) Thankfully. (Laughter.)"

The questioner, his mind no doubt reeling from the image of the head of state in swimming briefs, then asked, unsure, "Ready?"

"Yes. Sorry to interrupt you. Just testing your concentration," Bush said. The transcript adds: "(Laughter.)"


White House counselor Dan Bartlett tells the Post that the new strategy is meant to show "the range of his personality, the humor." And that's something the American people are sure to appreciate. So, OK, maybe things in Iraq are going so badly that people there have decided to arm themselves to the teeth. But look at the bright side -- the president can make awkward jokes! (Tragic laughter.)

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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