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Bush, the Media and Democrats
by George Shadroui
23 January 2004

Bush could part the Red Sea and liberals in the media would complain about the dislocation of fish.

Tom Shales, the Washington Post media analyst, tells us that George Bush’s is a cocky, arrogant smile. Consequently, he ripped what was actually a pretty good State of the Union performance and a very solid speech. Bush was taunting people, whines Shales, who apparently cannot abide Bush defending himself or his administration.

In fact, other than giving a little hell to terrorists and a few Democratic back-benchers (by way of policy differences), Bush was mostly handing out praise: to our military, to the American people, to our allies. Here is how Shales reported it:

The speech was pretty much so-so, and Bush's gung-ho delivery -- something approaching the forced jollity of a game show host -- lacked dignity and certainly lacked graciousness. Bush has never been big on those things anyway.

Dan Rather of CBS News, who sometimes goes out of his way not to upset the Bush people -- since they are all ready to pounce on him for what they perceive (or claim to perceive) as a bias against their exalted glorious potentate -- said afterward that Bush's was 'a strong speech, strongly delivered.' It was one of the few times Rather sounded less than astute.

On the contrary, it might be one of the few times Rather tried to be fair because Bush actually made a compelling case for both his economic and his foreign policy decisions. He has been mostly right about taxes. He was right to topple Saddam. And he was right to tell the nation there are chapters still to be written on the war on terrorism, sorry to say. He continues to surprise us with both his toughness and his compassion. Did you ever expect a Republican president to advocate a second chance program for released criminals? His immigration work program makes much sense.

Bush could part the Red Sea and liberals in the media would complain about the dislocation of fish. Things that other presidents do routinely are presented as glaringly arrogant when Bush does them. Things Bush does that are unique or moving are immediately reduced to the commonplace. There is always a way to make the worst case against this president, especially for those determined to scuttle a second Bush term. A few of examples might suffice.

·  Bush gets on an aircraft carrier to shake hands with soldiers and to thank them for their service. He jostles with them, has a little fun, banters. A Democrat in the same situation might have been applauded for his common touch. (Though many Democrats would lack Bush’s comfort with the military.) Bush is accused of grandstanding and even disrespecting the military. Go figure.

· Bush slips into Iraq during Thanksgiving, an act of singular symbolism and drama. He delivers one of the greatest one-liners of the year – I was looking for a warm meal -- and transformed a forgotten mess hall in Iraq into the scene of one of the great dramatic moments of the year. Even the media, momentarily, was dazed by the president’s timing and courage. But it did not take them long to regain their balance. Within an hour or two of the first reports, there were claims that it was a reckless decision or that Karl Rove was trying to upstage Hillary Clinton, who was doing her own tour of duty through the region. I thought it was pretty damned cool.

·  There are reports of Bush showing deep and sincere compassion for wounded soldiers returning from Iraq, but these images rarely wind up on the cover of magazines, or on national television, and thus never sear themselves into the heart of the American public. Yet, how many pictures did we see of John Kennedy walking down the beach, in deep contemplation about the problems confronting the world? Or of Clinton doing same in one fashion or another? More likely, both were contemplating their next adulterous encounters with a female companion. But they got hero treatment. Bush gets hammered.

·  In his three years as president, I have never heard or read of the president uttering a single negative personal comment about any Democrat or world leader except in the context of a policy discussion or debate. Like Reagan, he has refused to engage in the politics of personal destruction, to use his predecessor’s phrase (his predecessor was the expert in that very sort of politics, by the way.) Yet it is the president who is repeatedly called cocky, arrogant, a liar. He has been accused of saying things he never said, and making claims he never made. In fact, it is the president’s accusers who are lying when they claim that Bush lied to the American people about weapons of mass destruction, about connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam or about the reasons for toppling the regime in Baghdad. It isn’t hard to figure out. Just go back and read what the president actually said. And also read what every reputable world leader believed about Iraq’s behavior.

What is at work here is not hard to figure out. Among the liberal press corps (yes, I am generalizing), only Democrats are allowed to be “great” presidents or men. FDR, Truman, JFK, even Clinton, have all been lionized to one degree or another. There is the occasional Republican who cannot be denied his moment, say a Reagan after being shot, or a Buckley who was too smart to be dismissed. But mainly grace, intellect and political brilliance are reserved for Democrats and liberals. And so we have this from Mr. Shales, in the same State of the Union column:

The best reaction shots were those of Ted Kennedy, whose stature seems to grow right along with his nose year after year after year. Kennedy has now reached a grand moment in the life of a senator; he looks like Hollywood itself cast him in the role. Seriously. With that waving mane of bright white hair, he evokes memories of Claude Rains looking distinguished as all get-out in Frank Capra's once-controversial, now-classic movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Never mind that the senator played by Rains had some shady dealings in his repertoire.

Kennedy looked great, like he was ready to take his place next to Jefferson on Mount Rushmore. He gives off the kind of venerable vibes that some of us got from an Everett Dirksen way back when, or a Charles Laughton -- oh wait, Laughton was a make-believe senator, too (in "Advise and Consent").

Ted Kennedy? Mount Rushmore? His stature growing? This juxtaposition with all the harsh words leveled at Bush pretty much sums up the nonsense that passes for commentary among our liberal establishment. I suspect many Americans might agree with me that Kennedy actually looked like the ungrateful, corrupt and washed up politician he has always been.

I don’t mean to suggest that the president is not vulnerable on some points. He does muddle his words from time to time. And his instinctive grin does suggest a bit of swagger that drives liberals ballistic. He could be a better diplomat. (Bear in mind that this quality of candor, detested in Bush, was celebrated in Harry Truman as “plain-talking” and “no nonsense.”) Nor is Bush patient, at times, with the rituals of deference required by the media. Jack Kennedy excelled at being playful with the press, and thus successfully manipulated them to cover up many of his personal and policy failures. Bush can be defensive when faced with direct questions, for he has the temperament of a CEO, not a pundit or intellectual.

Even so, what probably most annoys the media is that Bush, like Reagan, really doesn’t care much what they think. He will take his case directly to the electorate that he and his administration have risen to the challenges of our nation. He surely is more right than his critics want to concede. He has responded with focus, courage and conviction to a difficult recession, an unprecedented attack on our country and an almost non-stop political assault (because he dared to win a close election). We will probably find out, once he leaves office, that he reads more than he gets credit for, too. After all, Kennedy paid people to read and write his books and he was hailed as our brightest president. Reagan wrote his own correspondence, often witty and erudite, and he was portrayed as a dunce.

When John Kerry smiles, he looks goofy. When Dick Gephardt, a good man by all accounts, tries to whip up a crowd, he comes off a little stiff. When George Bush smiles, he turns up his mouth in a way that betrays a hint of something that drives liberals mad. On such issues, apparently, does the future of the Republic rest. At least, that is what Tom Shales would have us believe.

George Shadroui has been published in more than two dozen newspapers and magazines, including National Review and Frontpagemag.com

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