Synthesizing Reality

A how-to guide from the Bush White House.


In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend—but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency. The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”—Ron Suskind, “Without A Doubt,” in the Oct. 17 New York Times Magazine


Q: Scott, this morning Senator McCain said that he disagreed with the things that President Bush has said about Senator Kerry misunderstanding the war on terror.  What do you guys have to say to that?

A: I think what Senator McCain said was that he believes that the President is the best one to lead us forward in the war on terrorism. He spoke about how the President is leading with moral clarity and strength, and that’s what we need as we move forward in the war on terrorism. There’s a clear choice on how we approach the war on terrorism and how we lead going forward. And Senator McCain—that’s what Senator McCain talked about. I saw what he said earlier.

Q: He did say what you’re saying he said, but he also said he disagreed with the characterization of Senator Kerry, so I wanted your reaction to that part of what he said.

A: I don’t know if those were his exact words. I think what he focused on—what he focused on was the President’s leadership, and how important his leadership is to prevailing in the war on terrorism. And that’s what this election is about; it’s about who can lead us forward to prevail in the war on terrorism. Senator Kerry has the wrong approach. The reality is we live in dangerous times, and the President has a comprehensive strategy for winning the war on terrorism, and we appreciate Senator McCain’s strong support for the strategy that the President is pursuing.

Q: But he did say he disagreed with how the President is characterizing Senator Kerry. So can you guys react to that at all?

A: I think the choice is very clear for the American people. The President is—he’ll talk about it again, today, in his remarks. If you look at what Senator Kerry’s—if you look at Senator Kerry’s record, and look at his views, it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the war on terrorism. He has a record of weakness when it comes to national security issues. He is someone who has voted to significantly cut intelligence funding, right in the aftermath of the 1993 World Trade Center attacks. He has a view of retreat when it comes to Iraq. It’s important that we succeed in Iraq. Senator McCain talked about that this morning, as well, because Iraq is a central commitment to prevailing in the war on terrorism.

Scott McClellan answering questions at a White House press gaggle, Oct. 22