What I saw at the elocution
Here’s Tom Shales on He Who Cannot Speak:
Bush similarly struggled, a few minutes earlier, to cite the single biggest mistake of his presidency. He looked baffled and incredulous. “I’m sure something will pop into my head here,” he said, noting the intense “pressure” of holding a news conference on TV. Of course people watching throughout the country expect a president to be able to handle that kind of pressure without blinking, based on the assumption that this is one of the milder forms of pressure that come with the office.
Earlier still, Bush stopped in mid-answer and for a few seconds appeared to have lost his train of thought. Looking anxious, he fell back on phrases and thoughts he’d used earlier, saying he and the world changed after 9/11, which was a truism, and that in the 21st century, America is no longer protected by the oceans on either side. But that’s been true since the invention of nuclear weapons and of missiles to deliver them from halfway around the world.
After the news conference, CBS News anchor Dan Rather said Bush had come across as “steady, competent and forceful” while answering questions but that he delivered his opening statement “in a rather flat monotone,” perhaps intentionally. It was a peculiar performance; Bush would look down, read a sentence, look up, look around, pause slightly, then look down and read another sentence.
Although the short speech was well-written, especially toward the end, Bush looked upon it as an address in which all sentences were created equal. He never stressed any particular point or added any emphasis. He might as well have been reading letters off an eye chart.
And here is Peggy Noonan sitting at Bush’s knee, looking up with adoring Daddy-eyes:
What do I think public opinion of the president’s news conference will be? Generally positive. Here’s why: The president spoke uninterrupted for the first 17 minutes, when most people were tuning in to see what he had to say. His speech/announcement hit every point that had to be covered, crisply and yet somberly.
Here’s Peggy calling journalists, with their smarty-pants questions and obsession with facts, traitors:
Imagine it is April, 1943 and FDR is meeting with the press. Mr. President, why did you fail us on Dec. 7? You call it a day of infamy, but didn’t it reveal your leadership style to be infamous? Why did you let the U.S. fleet sit sleepy and exposed at Pearl Harbor? Do you think your physical infirmity, sir, has an impact on your ability to think about strategic concerns, and will you instruct your doctors to make public your medical records?
But of course they wouldn’t have asked these questions. Our press corps in those days was more like Americans than our press corps is today. They were both less self-hating and more appropriately anxious: Don’t be killing our leaders in the middle of a war, don’t be disheartening the people. Win and do the commentary later.(my emphasis)
…and here is Peg summing up:
More and more it seems to me Mr. Bush is not only Bill Clinton’s successor but his exact opposite: Mr. Clinton perfectly poised and hollow inside, a man whose lack of compass left him unable to lead within the Oval Office but who gave a compelling public presentation of the presidency, and Mr. Bush a strong president with an obvious soul, decisive at the desk, but with no dazzling edifice. It’s actually amazing that two such different men came so close together. Lucky for us, considering the history, that Mr. Bush was the one who came now.
Unfortunately for the unlucky 3000, President Decisive At The Desk wasn’t sitting at his desk in August 2001 instead of choosing to take a one-month vacation after only seven months on the job.
That Presidentin’ is hard, should be apparent to even the most obvious, if not oblivious, soul….