Presidents Who Think

So the president has finally put all of us out of our misery, with his final decision on stem-cell funding. Actually, he’s put only some of us out of our misery, as some of us have to watch medical research move slower than necessary to help the people we love. Still, the president has made a Great Decision, and as such, it seems a word about Bush’s thinking process is in order.

Yesterday, as the nation waited for his announcement, not one but four different flaks, officials, and cronies took time out to tell the public how very hard the president was thinking about this issue. “Agonizing,” “grappling,” and “worrying” were the words chosen by George W. Bush’s aides and staffers over the past months. “Obsessed,” “introspective,” and “consumed” were the descriptors they tossed out, with grave gravity. Everyone who’s lobbied, spoken with, or dealt with the president on stem cells has been impressed and heartened by the seriousness with which he’s been contemplating this decision. Which leads one inexorably to imagining the note taped to the door of the Oval Office:

Shhhhhhhhh. The president is thinking.

How many smart people does one have to put on one’s staff to communicate that you are indeed a great thinker? One? Two? Eleven? Why is it that you never hear about Einstein, or John Kenneth Galbraith, or Martin Buber sending forth minions into the night to inform the world that the big man is thinking? Might we not have hoped that the man who runs the country is, likewise, thinking all the time? How is it possible that we elected a president to whom the state of being in thought is so utterly foreign that vast battalions of foot soldiers must be dispatched to the blue room just to advise us when it’s happening?

Have you ever seen a constipated cat? All straining and shaking and sweating? That’s how I’ve come to imagine this president working through a tough problem.

No one likes those insidious little comparisons to President Clinton, who did, after all, do us wrong. But even if you grant that some significant proportion of Clinton’s cognitive time was spent thinking about issues such as “I wonder, does that bra hook in front or in back,” at least no one can dispute that he was thinking all of the time. He never sent forth minions to tell us that, Hey! Incredible! The president’s thinking … again.

Lest you think this is all just vestigial post-Florida surliness, let me just add this gloss: I, for one, am truly proud of the president for his hard work on sorting through the moral implications of funding research on embryonic stem cells. Based on last night’s speech, he seems to have done some real sweating and shaking over it. And were he to keep this whole “thought” thing up consistently, say for 10 or 15 years, he might just prove himself to be a heck of a candidate for president someday.