How Bush Copes
"People are tired of him." Bush's circle remains sealed tight, the lawmaker said. "There's nobody there who can stand up to him and tell him, 'Mr. President, you've got to do this. You're wrong on this.' There's no adult supervision. It's like he's oblivious. Maybe that's a defense mechanism."Baker's probing the state of the presidency -- and the president -- today in his piece A President Besieged and Isolated -- Yet at Ease. Bush is, along with Truman, the most unpopular president in US history. No one has been less popular, according to the polls, for a longer period. He slipped below 50% approval in Jan. 2005, and hasn't come back.
How do strong-willed, positive people survive such a profound public failure? Some don't, like LBJ and Richard Nixon, but Bush, like Truman before him, seems to be fairing quite well by Baker's account -- and I'm sure Baker was hunting for signs of cracks.
"I find him serene," [Henry] Kissinger said. "I know President Johnson was railing against his fate. That's not the case with Bush. He feels he's doing what he needs to do, and he seems to me at peace with himself." ...All report that Bush is focused solely on the war, which probably explains why Alberto Gonzales is still in office, and why he so misread his base on immigration. That's good. It's what he needs to be focused on, because he's got a year and a half to make it right, and he knows that much more is at stake than mere legacy.
"He almost has . . . a sense of fatalism," said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who recently spent a day traveling with Bush. "All he can do is do his best, and 100 years from now people will decide if he was right or wrong. It doesn't seem to be a false, macho pride or living in your own world. I find him to be amazingly calm." ...
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who attended a legislative meeting with Bush last month, said his impervious nature works both ways. "The things that make him unpopular also help him deal with all the pressure," Kingston said. "He's stubborn. He's loyal to his philosophy."
If he gets it wrong, the families of the 3,500 American men and women who have died fighting the war on terror are not guaranteed that their loved ones didn't die in vain.
Who can handle that kind of pressure, especially when your options are limited by a Democratic Congress that would just as soon see you pinned with that particular painful blame, and an Iraqi government that still has much to learn? I know I'd be screaming with frustruation.
But Bush doesn't, and Baker credits one reason that doesn't surprise him (religious faith) and one that probably does (the ability to separate the man from the reality through intellectual curiosity).
Amid the tumult, the president has sought refuge in history. He read three books last year on George Washington read about the Algerian war of independence and the exploitation of Congo, and lately has been digging into "Troublesome Young Men," Lynne Olson's account of Conservative backbenchers who thrust Winston Churchill to power. Bush idolizes Churchill and keeps a bust of him in the Oval Office.
After reading Andrew Roberts's "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900," Bush brought in the author and a dozen other scholars to talk about the lessons. "What can I learn from history?" Bush asked Roberts, according to Stelzer, the Hudson Institute scholar, who participated.
Stelzer said Bush seemed smarter than he expected. The conversation ranged from history to religion and touched on sensitive topics for a president wrestling with his legacy. "He asked me, 'Do you think our unpopularity abroad is a result of my personality?' And he laughed," Stelzer recalled. "I said, 'In part.' And he laughed again."
Much of the discussion focused on the nature of good and evil, a perennial theme for Bush, who casts the struggle against Islamic extremists in black-and-white terms. Michael Novak, a theologian who participated, said it was clear that Bush weathers his difficulties because he sees himself as doing the Lord's work.
"His faith is very strong," said Novak, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "Faith is not enough by itself because there are a lot of people who have faith but weak hearts. But his faith is very strong. He seeks guidance, like every other president does, in prayer. And that means trying to be sure he's doing the right thing. And if you've got that set, all the criticism, it doesn't faze you very much. You're answering to God."
Horne, the British historian, found himself with Bush on another occasion after Kissinger gave the president "A Savage War of Peace," Horne's book on the French defeat in Algeria in the mid-20th century. Bush invited Horne to visit. They talked about the parallels and differences between Algeria and Iraq as Bush sought insight he could apply to his own situation.
Horne said he is not a Bush supporter but was nonetheless struck by the president's tranquility. "He was very friendly, very relaxed," Horne said. "My God, he looked well. He looked like he came off a cruise in the Caribbean. He looked like he hadn't a care in the world. It was amazing."
The Left focuses on this "not a care in the world" aura Bush naturally emits and sees it as either stupidity or callousness. They get it wrong, and it's a good thing they are wrong.
He also personifies the strength that comes from faith in things greater than the self. Were George W. Bush all about George W. Bush, we'd be in very sorry shape -- and that's one reason we should be grateful for the man ... even if he's not on our "most popular" list.
hat-tip: Real Clear Politics