Who Is George W. Bush?


I agree that there is a disconnect between the up-close George W. Bush we know and the public George W. Bush the rest of the country is now getting to know. Remember when we all interviewed him last spring? He was loose, funny, brash, charismatic. There was nothing ill-at-ease about him: He propped his alligator boots up on the coffee table in his office and talked to us like we were old friends. But he wasn’t just about good-old-boy charm: He could also talk like a policy wonk, lecturing us for nearly half an hour on the minutiae of education reform.

I miss the George W. Bush we met last spring. Lately, I find myself watching him—during the Arizona debates, or more recently, when he appeared on Letterman—and wincing. Was the sneer always there? The awkward, nervous laugh? The robotic answers?

In particular, I remember a moment from the Arizona debate when he was asked what he had learned from the Dean Acheson biography. You could hear, in the yawning silence between the reporter’s question and the candidate’s answer, Bush frantically rummaging around for something, anything, to fill the air. When he hit upon it—”Freedom is our most important export”—I felt relieved for him. It was a fine answer, but nothing more. It was McCain’s impromptu speech that followed—on Acheson’s great lessons for the nation—that was truly presidential.

George W. Bush, up close, has glimmers of greatness. In the national forum, he is lacking. Why do you all think he doesn’t translate to a larger audience? How can he better project the “real” George W. Bush?