But I did become concerned when Bush was flanked on stage by both George Shultz and Henry Kissenger -- stalwart Republicans and two of the most influential men in America -- at an early campaign rally of rich Republicans. And leading a standing ovation from the front row was Nancy Reagan. I couldn’t believe what was unfolding before my very eyes. But I knew what it meant. The Republicans were backing Bush.
As the Bush campaign gained momentum, I was beside myself with rage one Sunday afternoon when my died-in-the-wool Republican brother began mouthing the party line on the wonders Governor Bush had worked in Texas. As soon as I heard “Let me tell you about what George Bush did in Texas blah, blah, blah”, from him, I launched into a shrill diatribe against the then Governor’s qualifications or lack there of.
Somehow, the obviously mediocre Bush won the election. It was therefore of vital importance to the nation that his Vice-President and those he chose for cabinet positions, Secretary of State, Defense Secretary, etc., were familiar with the corridors of power.
Bush did not disappoint, though. There was a collective sigh of relief from intelligent life when he surrounded himself with experienced advisors, some of which had served in his father’s administration. The assumption was that Bush would be some sort of a rubber-stamp president, not too much would be asked or expected of him, while Vice-President Dick Cheney, Sec. of State Colin Powell, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would do the heavy lifting.
Many Americans viewed the Bush presidency as a flaw of their democracy ? that is, a president elected by a less than majority of votes ? and as something to be tolerated until the next election. The terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 changed that. It made Bush, as well.
Not since the infamous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had Americans been so desperate for leadership from the White House. Bush now had a clear mandate to lead. And now it was incumbent upon the people advising Bush to step up and prove their mettle in this time of national crisis, when the very stability of the nation was at risk. Here was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s opportunity to move to the fore.
Although Dick Cheney and Colin Powell were much better known than Donald Rumsfeld before the 9/11 terror he was clearly the man in charge of America’s response to it. The Defense Secretary seemed to thrive in the crisis, especially when he was facing the Washington press corps at one of his frequent news conferences. Something Bush, for good reason, was loath to do.
The press corps hadn’t seen a confident intellect the likes of Donald Rumsfeld since Robert S. McNamara, another Defense Secretary, served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The press was malleable in Rumfeld’s hands, too. Those news conferences became lectures in which Rumsfeld would parse the questions asked and then answered the questions the way he wanted them to be asked. Nor did he suffer press fools he felt did not grasp the issues.
The press was spellbound and gushed over “Rummy,” the new media darling. They particularly liked the ex-navy pilot’s vigor. And being one of the top collegiate wrestlers in America as a Princeton undergrad only enhanced Rummy’s macho mystique. That the press is enamored of Rumsfeld is problematic for the fourth estate, because its role is to probe the Defense Secretary and not to be his poodle especially in time of war.
The intense, steely Rumsfeld reminds me of one of these grotesque “Master of the Universe” dolls so very popular with eight-year-old boys. The conservative National Review even put Rummy on its cover in Superman tights.
A shadowy fellow traveler of Rumsfeld is Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfiwitz, a neo-conservative Harvard wonk that Americans really should, but don’t, know more about. After all, Bush’s Middle East policy is as much Wolfiwitz’s vision as it is Rumsfeld’s. Rummy plus “Wolfy” equals the war in Iraq. There is something Strangelovian about the eerily detached Wolfiwitz, as if he has his own private agenda and is paying lip service to the public requirements of his office. His public pronouncements strike me as perfunctory while his deportment is nondescript, giving us little insight into the Bush administration’s leading hawk. At least you have some idea of what makes Rummy tick.
The lightweight of the Bush team is national security advisor Condoleezza Rice. To shore up his weak standing with women, Bush needed one in a high-profiled position. That Condoleezza is a woman of color with an ethnic-sounding first name (Condoleezza is a variant spelling of con dolcezza, an Italian musical notation) was all the better. But she lacks the requisite gravitas of a Jean Kirkpatrick or Madeline Albright.
The bright-eyed “Condi” looked almost giddy in an early photo-op with Bush at his Crawford, Texas ranch, in which she wore a pair of bobby sox and sat close to the President with her knees pressed together in a schoolgirl pose. Hardly the deportment one expects of a national security advisor to the most powerful man on the planet.
When, early in the Bush presidency, a diplomatic crisis erupted between China and America over a mid-air collision between an American surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet, the national security advisor was conspicuous by her absence from the diplomatic fray. Thus prompting the press to speculate on what specific role, if any, she was playing in the crisis. The White House spin was that Dr. Rice was busy “working behind the scenes.”
Dr. Rice will have ample opportunity to demonstrate her gravitas when, under the glare of TV lights, she goes before the 9-11 commission investigating the Bush administration’s failure to prevent the terrorist attack and her role in the failure.
Bush’s nadir with me occurred during his visit to Britain when he faced the British press corps as acrimony was building over his Iraq war and over the spurious reasons Prime Minister Tony Blair had given the British to get them to support the war. A few minutes into the press conference -- in which Bush gave simple-minded answers to serious questions and at which time Tony Blair tried to make sense out of what Bush was saying to the press -- I turned off the TV. I’d had it! I was embarrassed Bush was my country’s president.
Four more years of Bush? Not!
It’s time for regime change in The White House.
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