Jewish World Review April 19, 2001 / 26 Nissan, 5761
The Quiet Man
THE other day, George W. Bush did something momentous and marvelous: nothing. Specifically, he did nothing to exploit the return of the 24 military men and women whose release he had won from China. From his vacation home in Texas, he instead sent out his press secretary to announce that he would not travel to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station to meet the returning crew. "What's important is for everyone to come home without a lot of hoop-de-la," Ari Fleischer quoted Bush as saying. Fleischer added that Bush believed that a military reception would be "just the right amount of hoop-de-la."
Just the right amount of hoop-de-la -- and the right amount is without the president. What a delightful notion. For eight years, we suffered under a president who gave you an idea of what G-d would be like if He was a media hound: Not a single sparrow ever fell but that Bill Clinton was there to comfort the surviving sparrows before the cameras.
And not a news cycle rolled around, not an edition went to bed, not a talk show went on the air without President Me getting in his two, or two thousand, cents. He talked and talked. He never stopped talking. He had town meetings on top of town meetings; he had town meetings to discuss the problem of excessive town meetings.
The first thing he did after he was elected was to invite a couple of hundred other people who enjoyed listening to themselves to jaw about the economy for a couple of days. For New Year's fun, he liked to relax at Renaissance Weekend, a gathering of the self-important and the self-promoting that featured two glorious days of . . . talk. He liked talk so much that he actually encouraged Yasser Arafat to speak his mind.
He talked so much that by his second term people got too tired to listen any more. He took to flying around the world, dropping in on dictatorships, where captive audiences in the thousands and tens of thousands would be forced to listen to hours of his talk. When that began to fail him, he ignited the greatest tabloid scandal the presidency had ever seen, and forced the rest of us to sit through two years of all-Clinton-talk, all the time.
Now, we have the president as the quiet man. Lord, it's nice. You can hear the birds again, the gentle lapping of the Potomac against its grassy banks, the spring breeze wafting through the cherry blossoms. You can hear yourself think again.
But, oddly enough, not everyone seems happy. Indeed, it seems that Bush already has made the liberal establishment unhappy to a point approaching hysteria. Among the better sort in New York and London and Paris and Berlin, it is urgently and passionately said that our new president is beyond incompetent; he is dangerous. The vaporing will continue, I'm afraid, because it rises directly from Bush's fundamental disinclination for talk.
It is accepted among establishmentarians that, now and again, a Republican is going to get himself elected president, due to the horribly large number of Americans who do not know better than to vote for the wrong people, no matter how often and how patiently the experts explain things to them. But the better sort of Republican president -- the sort, in fact, exemplified by the upstart Bush's father -- at least knows in his heart that he isn't really fit to hold the office sanctified by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. So he talks to his betters -- or more to the point, he listens to them. He knows he must consult the establishmentarians and pay public attention to the views of their attendant chattering class; and he does not just go off by himself and commit whatever fool act enters his little right-wing mind.
We had a Republican president like the junior Bush once before. Ronald Reagan was famously wrong about everything, and whenever anyone who actually understood how the world worked -- the French foreign minister, for example -- would try to talk sense into him, he would laugh and pretend he couldn't hear because of the helicopter noise. It was maddening.
No, no, it just won't do. As the famous saying has it, you can't govern if you can't lead, and you can't lead if you don't talk a lot on television. And listen a lot too. To
Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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