But as the Iraq war and declining poll ratings weigh ever more heavily on Bush, the disconnect with reality seems to have gotten worse. In September, Time magazine reported that his bubble had grown "more hermetic ... with fewer people willing or able to bring him bad news -- or tell him when he's wrong."
In October, Thomas DeFrank of the New York Daily News reported that Bush is now given to temper tantrums. He frequently berates others for his own mistakes, refusing to take responsibility for them, DeFrank reports. The picture that emerges is eerily familiar to anyone who has read about Richard Nixon's last days in office.
Other press reports suggest that Bush administration officials are now going to extraordinary lengths to avoid displeasing their boss. According to an item in New York magazine last week, administration officials threatened to walk away from global warming talks if Bill Clinton were allowed to speak to the group. Perhaps the United States should abstain from the United Nations conference on policy grounds. But to do so simply because of a Clinton speech is petty in the extreme.
Unfortunately, it appears that there is nobody -- even his father -- in a position to sit President Bush down and force him to change course. The one person who might be able to do so is Vice President Cheney, but he has long been Bush's principal enabler, according to a report by John Dickerson in the online magazine Slate. Lacking any political ambitions of his own, Cheney has no incentive to disagree with Bush on anything. This has contributed to the hermetic nature of the White House, helping vitally to sustain the bubble in which Bush operates largely on his own without ever hearing a dissenting voice.
In the unlikely event that Bush decides to take a new course, one place he might turn is to University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, who recently posted some good advice on his website. Bush needs to accept reality on Iraq, Sabato says, talk up the economy, develop a new domestic agenda, re-staff his administration and admit error, especially on the unaffordable Medicare drug benefit. I agree.
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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