At the nadir of his presidency, George W. Bush is looking for answers. One at a time or in small groups, he summons leading authors, historians, philosophers and theologians to the White House to join him in the search.
Over sodas and sparkling water, he asks his questions: What is the nature of good and evil in the post-Sept. 11 world? What lessons does history have for a president facing the turmoil I'm facing? How will history judge what we've done? Why does the rest of the world seem to hate America? Or is it just me they hate?
These are the questions of a president who has endured the most drastic political collapse in a generation. Not generally known for intellectual curiosity, Bush is seeking out those who are, engaging in a philosophical exploration of the currents of history that have swept up his administration. For all the setbacks, he remains unflinching, rarely expressing doubt in his direction, yet trying to understand how he got off course.
These sessions, usually held in the Oval Office or the elegant living areas of the executive mansion, are never listed on the president's public schedule and remain largely unknown even to many on his staff.
I’m not sure what author Peter Baker wants us to think when we read this presidential profile, but I feel as if I’m reading about a president who’s taken up knitting.
While President Bush is pontificating about “the nature of good and evil” in a post 9/11 world, it seems to me he’s left the actual work of “good and evil” to Darth Cheney and his minions.
It must be nice to sit around and gab over drinks about philosophy and history with the leading minds of the day--in another era, we called these tete-a-tetes “salons.” I once bemoaned to a friend about the loss of “salon society,” as people stopped gathering to talk about literature, politics, art and the like; instead, we chatted about celebrity gossip and the latest TV sitcom characters. Well, seems I was wrong; at least one person has brought back the salon.
This sentence also struck me:
For all the setbacks, he remains unflinching, rarely expressing doubt in his direction, yet trying to understand how he got off course.
I have to wonder what the purpose of these discussions is, if not to merely entertain the president, or perhaps offer him a shoulder to cry on. If he wonders why people hate him, don’t you think doing things like, I dunno, nominating a homophobic, anti-choice nutcase to be surgeon general might be one reason why? Instead of spending three hours lunching and talking to creepy neocon historian Andrew Roberts, author of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900:
Bush, Cheney, and--in a recent, glowing cover story--National Review, have, in fact, embraced a man with links to white supremacism, whose book is not a history but an ahistorical catalogue of apologies and justifications for mass murder that even blames the victims of concentration camps for their own deaths. The decision to laud Roberts provides a bleak insight into the thinking of the Bush White House as his presidential clock nears midnight.
Which begs the question. Who exactly are these authors, historians and theologicans President Bush spends his afternoons with? This Roberts guy raises some big red flags. Let me guess at some others: Tim LaHaye, maybe? Rev. Sun Myung Moon?
In between the president’s mountain biking excursions, book clubs, brush-clearing and Crawford, Texas vacations, I have to wonder: who is minding the store?