A VISION OF THE FUTURE?
I don't think the meaning of events like this is what Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times thinks it is:
Low in Polls, Bush Makes More Time for Friendly Crowds
ROGERS, Ark., Oct. 15 -- Out there in the rest of America, polls show that about twice as many people disapprove of President Bush as approve of him. But here in a cavernous convention center hall, Mr. Bush found nothing but admirers Monday when he answered questions during a town-hall-style meeting.
One man began by commending Mr. Bush "on your steadfastness and your faith." Another concluded by saying, "Thank you for being my president for the last seven years," with an emphasis on the word "my." A third expressed dismay that Mr. Bush could not run for president again.
"It's time for new blood," Mr. Bush replied. "Plus," he added wryly, "I'd be single."
The friendly audience in northwest Arkansas -- not a single questioner criticized Mr. Bush -- is typical of such let-Bush-be-Bush events, which the White House is staging with increasing frequency. Mr. Bush's aides like them because the president is much better in an informal setting, especially one where he can get his message across, conversation-style, without pesky reporters asking the questions....
What's wrong with Stolberg's interpretation? The part about "get[ting] his message across." What message? And in what way is it getting across? It's already gotten across to his listeners; he's talking to people who already agree with him on virtually everything -- there's no communication, just an endless round of Limbaughesque "Ditto"s.
As the accompanying photo shows, he flat-out loves this:
When the Bushies actually want him to "get his message across," they spoon-feed the message to Beltway journalists, who dutifully report it, even if it's the same thing Bush has been saying for months; editors then regard it as their obligation to put these stories on page one. But this is a relatively short article on page A20 of the Times, and Stolberg doesn't even tell us what policy messages Bush was delivering, if any, which means the White House didn't care to "get his message across" to you.
And why should anyone at the White House care? He's won his battle to keep the war going for the rest of his term. He'll win on S-CHIP. He'll win on domestic surveillance. He doesn't need to persuade anyone of anything anymore.
I think he's doing this for himself. And I think we may be seeing a glimpse of his future.
He's needy. He's certain he's a great man, but he knows that many of the rest of us have foolishly failed to grasp this -- and it rankles him, because it's his primal wound. He was always the no-account brother and son; nobody in his family ever thought he was what he's sure he is, the greatest of all the Bushes, and one of the greatest Americans of all time.
So I could really imagine him, after he leaves office, forgoing at least some of the money he could make delivering high-priced speeches to business groups, choosing instead to appear at stage-managed gatherings of delighted yellow-dog Republicans who praise him to the skies and hang on his every word.
And maybe he'll turn part the "fantastic Freedom Institute" he wants to establish at his presidential library into a George W. Bush Dinner Theater of sorts, where he can hold forth to his heart's content, before "scholars" whose loyalty to his "freedom agenda" has been painstakingly vetted.
I think he's always going to need this. And it's not going to become any less painful to watch as the years go by.