When Peggy Noonan refers to President Bush as “weird,” you know the wheels have come off the wagon.
As I watched the news conference, it occurred to me that one of the things that might leave people feeling somewhat disoriented is the president’s seemingly effortless high spirits. He’s in a good mood. There was the usual teasing, the partly aggressive, partly joshing humor, the certitude. He doesn’t seem to be suffering, which is jarring. Presidents in great enterprises that are going badly suffer: Lincoln, LBJ with his head in his hands. Why doesn’t Mr. Bush? Every major domestic initiative of his second term has been ill thought through and ended in failure. His Iraq leadership has failed. His standing is lower than any previous president’s since polling began. He’s in a good mood. Discuss.
Is it defiance? Denial? Is it that he’s right and you’re wrong, which is your problem? Is he faking a certain steely good cheer to show his foes from Washington to Baghdad that the American president is neither beaten nor bowed? Fair enough: Presidents can’t sit around and moan. But it doesn’t look like an act. People would feel better to know his lack of success sometimes gets to him. It gets to them.
His stock answer is that of course he feels the sadness of the families who’ve lost someone in Iraq. And of course he must. Beyond that his good humor seems to me disorienting, and strange.
Americans have always been somewhat romantic about the meaning of our country, and the beacon it can be for the world, and what the Founders did. But they like the president to be the cool-eyed realist, the tough customer who understands harsh realities.
With Mr. Bush it is the people who are forced to be cool-eyed and realistic. He’s the one who goes off on the toots. This is extremely irritating, and also unnatural. Actually it’s weird.
Okay, Peggy, if you’re so smart, now what do we do?
Reminder: This isn’t the first time the light has come on for Ms. Noonan.
Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.