I saw Bush give a press conference a week ago. He was at his ranch, where he always is while other people are running the country, standing next to General Tommy Franks. In response to a question about how long our troops would remain in Afghanistan, Bush deferred to Franks. "You'll have to talk to Tommy Franks," he said, because, "he's in charge of the military."
There it was, on live television: George Bush forgetting that he himself commands the world's largest army.
I'll give Bush credit. He has improved in the last few months. But it's really a question of scale. In his pre-9/11 days, Bush wouldn't have lasted 10 seconds on the Gong Show -- his public appearances were that painful. Now he's up to about thirty seconds. But does that mean that passages like following actually make sense?
"In the four months since Sept. 11, President Bush has seemed transformed from a casually educated son of privilege into a mature leader of a nation at war. Gone are the jokes about his I.Q. his attention span. The president himself has appeared to rise from his new mission against terror time after time, from his tough-minded speech to Congress on Sept. 20 to his eloquent peroration about 'the struggle of memory against forgetting' that marked the three-month anniversary of the attacks on Dec. 11"
First of all, Bush's Sep. 20 speech was, as far as I could tell, a total disaster. In Russia, they reported it as though it had been some of the most uninspired oratory in the history of the human race. But after the fact, this speech has been consistently referred to in the media as though it was genuinely Churchillian; one reads time and time again about how it was Bush's "great moment."
This is one of those things that's easy for journalists to say, and is bullet-proof when it comes to charges of inaccuracy. After all, it's just a casually-delivered opinion. But the time will come, very soon, when no one will remember the speech, but they will remember that it was "Bush's great moment", one that "defined his presidency." The public's attention span is so short, and the media today is so relentless, that lead can now be turned into gold literally before our very eyes. This is what is happening with Bush and his "tough-minded speech."
Then there's the line about Bush's "eloquent peroration." A few points to make about that sentence:
1) I don't think that a person who does not know what an "eloquent peroration" is should be given credit for having performed one. It's one thing to say, "The pig ate a prodigious amount of scraps." You're not implying that the pig knows the word "prodigious." It's somewhat more nauseating, but still close to acceptable, to describe Michael Jordan as "limber and lissome" athlete, or to say that "Leiter struck out Bonds on a guileful curveball." The athletes wouldn't use those words themselves, and wouldn't know what the fuck you were talking about if they read them... It's hard to say if you can really throw a "guileful" curveball if you don't think of it as "guileful." Probably you can, even if it's a pompous and condescending way for someone to put it (and the Times does things like this every day in its sports section).
But an "eloquent peroration" definitely implies an act committed by a person who knows what an "eloquent peroration" is. And I would bet the life of Al Leiter's children that George Bush does not know what a "peroration" is.
2) Bush doesn't write his own speeches, so who's rising to the occasion -- he or his writers? I know this is nitpicking, but I'm getting tired of hearing reporters give public figures credit for ideas and statements that aren't even their own.
One more point about that passage. Has there ever been a funnier euphemism than "casually-educated"? And did you notice how much less derisive "son of privilege" sounds than the usual term, "child of privilege"?
Busmiller's piece later goes on to explain, somewhat cloudily, that since 9/11, the public has begun to see in Bush the qualities that they want him to display. Her whole argument rests on one sentence: