You may remember Ron Fournier from his remarkably comprehensive failures to understanding anything about how presidential power works. He’s back to let you know that George W. Bush was a great man of noble character and decency and dignitude. The evidence is…whatever the opposite of compelling is:
I dug out Bush’s thank-you note this week while contemplating the opening of his presidential library Thursday, a milestone that most journalists will use to assess the 43rd president’s legacy. The record includes Bush’s responses to 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and bogus claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – all worth exploring skeptically.
But I’m going to take a few paragraphs to discuss something that gets less attention from the White House press corps – the essential humanity and decency of our presidents.
Bush’s note, a simple gesture, spoke volumes about his respect for the office of the presidency. He did not thank us for respecting him. He knew it wasn’t about George W. Bush. He was touched instead by the small measure of respect we showed “for our country.”
The same sense of dignity compelled Bush to forbid his staff to wear blue jeans in the White House. Male aides were required to wear jackets and ties in the Oval Office.
He was a stickler for punctuality. Long-time adviser Karen Hughes asked him years ago why he was always early for appointments. “Late is rude,” Bush replied. He thought that if people were going to take the time to see him, he shouldn’t keep them waiting.
I mean, sure, hundreds of thousands of people are dead all over the world and trillions of dollars are gone because of a war fought incompetently based on false premises, a major American city was left to drown, people were tortured and arbitrarily detained, the courts were packed with neoconfederate cranks, debt-funded upper-class tax cuts failed to save the country from economic catastrophe. But can we turn to the most important question — were the men who did this stuff wearing ties? I mean, we could debate all day whether FEMA should be led by a Republican fundraiser with no relevant experience who had recently departed some kind of horse association in a hail of lawsuits, but let’s focus on the more important fact that he really had a haircut you could set your watch to!
The punchline? In addition to being utterly irrelevant to anything, the stuff about the White House dress code isn’t even true — it was part of a myth the Bush administration set up to establish that the Grown Ups Were Back In Charge after the previous administration and their strange belief that how competent you were was more important than how much you looked like a middle-aged executive.
Fournier’s column is a useful document, in that it shows how easily many of our journamlaists can be manipulated by cheap and sometimes fraudulent symbolism. And the belief of so many of our nation’s elites that any non-too-liberal affluent middle-aged white guy in a suit should be presumed to be serious and competent explains a great deal about the Bush administration.