Saturday, January 27, 2007

More of a prayer than a promise

"I'm the decision-maker," Bush explained this week. (Catalog it as a follow-up to insisting last fall that he was "The Decider," in response to questions about firing Rummy--and we remember how that worked out.)

As I watched the clip of his "decision-maker" pronouncement, thinking about all the evidence that his defining trait isn't that he decides, but rather that, having decided (or inherited someone else's decision) he petulantly refuses to reconsider any of his decisions, there was something about it all that seemed so . . . eerily familiar.

Finally, for some reason, it dawned on me this morning: Hearing him insist "I'm the decider" had the same feel as listening to Nixon's old trademark line, "Let me make one thing perfectly clear." On the face of it, it sounds firm, in-control, the sign of keen logic and a finely honed analytic mind.

But as superior Nixon imitator David Frye showed at the time, Nixon wasn't taking charge with that line, he was pleading: Please, for pity's sake, let me make one thing perfectly clear. Something. Anything. When Nixon trotted that line out, it wasn't a sign he was in control; it was more often an indication of his fear that he was losing control.

Same with Bush calling himself "the decider." He doesn't bring it out at the moments when he's most obviously in charge--not when, say, he's just rammed another economy-wrecking piece of legislation or another dreadful nominee through a servile, GOP-controlled Congress. Not even at what was probably the high-point of his presidency, his (later regretted) "Mission Accomplished" event on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. No, he brings that line out when his power, in his own mind, is most threatened: when Bush the Elder was putting out signals through his surrogates that Junior should dump Rumsfeld for his own good; or now, when a Democratic-controlled Congress was showing a glimmer of serious resistance to his plans to escalate his failed war.

A comparable example was Bush's arrogant reply to Pelosi, reported last week: When the same plan has failed twice, why would you think it'll work the third time? Pelosi asked Bush about his plans to escalate in Iraq. "Because I told them it had to," Bush replied--clearly, a bit of braggadocio covering a moment of terrible weakness, not illustrating a moment of strength.

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