George Bush and the Dorian Gray Effect
In his White House Briefing column in today's WaPo, Dan Froomkin offers this tidbit about Bush's session last week with several conservative journalists:
Daniel Henninger, another participant in the interview, writes in the Wall Street Journal: "The burden of war . . . has not sapped Mr. Bush physically as it did Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Recalling the deep toll that war and partisanship imposed on their presidencies, I looked closely at Mr. Bush for similar evidence: none. The hair's gone gray, but there is little sign of fatigue in his face or demeanor. I asked how he stays normal: 'Prayer and exercise.' . . .Bush supporters, I suppose, will take this as a tribute to Bush's character--the conservative evangelical Christians may even consider it evidence of his being blessed by God. But for me it underscores Bush's infuriating quality of being blissfully oblivious to the toll his policies are taking in the real world.
Say what you will about Lyndon Johnson--and I considered him worthy of impeachment for the dishonest manner in which he embroiled the nation in Vietnam--he was at least personally engaged and concerned about the realities of the war. He agonized over every troop deployment and bombing run, visited with wounded soldiers continually, and grew increasingly depressed over the effects of the war on his administration's domestic initiatives.
Johnson's own son-in-law Chuck Robb was a Marine who served for a couple of years on the front lines in that war, and Johnson insisted on listening to each of the audio cassette tapes Robb sent home to his wife Lynda, in which Robb spoke about the hardships and dangers of life in the jungles of Vietnam. No wonder Johnson looked twenty years older by the time he left office.
Don't get me wrong--Johnson's personal engagement didn't save him from making decisions that were disastrously arrogant and wrong-headed. But at least he had the integrity to face the reality behind his policies--and he paid a personal price for it.
By contrast, Bush floats happily above it all. Daniel Henninger considers this "staying normal." I guess he's right--if wreaking havoc on the world, causing the needless deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of people, and remaining personally untouched is what you consider "normal." I might be more inclined to use a word like "pathological."
Tags: George Bush, Lyndon Johnson, Charles Robb