In its latest issue, Newsweek magazine has a disturbing portrait of George W. Bush as an aloof, out-of-touch president, isolated by his own governing style. Because of his intolerance for dissent, he has effectively surrounded himself with yes-men (and women) fearful of telling the president anything he doesn't want to hear.
Written by veteran reporters Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe, the Newsweek story confirms reports we have heard for the last five years about Bush's disinterest in the policy process or even the day-to-day politicking that ordinarily goes with the job. He dislikes meeting with members of Congress, is not a big consumer of news that does not come to him through official channels and relies almost exclusively on a small cluster of close aides, ignoring his Cabinet and the rest of the federal establishment.
The result is that Bush appears to live in a sort of fantasy world utterly divorced from reality. For example, Newsweek quotes a senior Republican congressman -- unnamed for fear of White House retaliation -- who was astounded in a meeting with Bush about Social Security at how out-of-touch he was with the political prospects for his reform plan. The congressman and everyone else in the room knew the plan was dead, yet Bush went on and on as if it were on the brink of enactment.
"I got the sense that his staff was not telling him the bad news," the lawmaker said. "This was not a case of him thinking positive. He just didn't have any idea of the political realities there. It was like he wasn't briefed at all."
According to Newsweek, in many subtle ways Bush discourages his aides from telling him the truth. One is the way he phrases questions -- not so as to elicit information, but rather in order to force subordinates into a position where the only answer they can give is to confirm the wisdom of whatever decision he already made.
This problem is compounded by Bush's antipathy for in-depth briefings. He prefers short conversations that are "long on conclusion, short on reasoning," we are told. "Faith, not evidence, is the basis for decision-making," Thomas and Wolffe report.
Bush loyalists will, no doubt, question the veracity of the Newsweek account. But it is only the latest portrait that paints the same picture. Last year, for example, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind reported that a senior White House aide actually mocked him for living in the "reality-based community." The aide said that the White House was creating its own reality that did not require thought, analysis, evidence or logic. It simply acted and reality changed.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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