Recently I deplored the tin ears displayed by President Bush’s public-relations manglers during the strangely subdued "rally for Iraq policy" at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The seethingly patriotic, fighting-mad U.S. soldiers, you may recall, had been ordered by know-it-all, levitating White House civilians in the military auditorium to sit on their hands and suppress all cheering when the commander in chief used the troops as a backdrop to explain why America is committed to 1) win and secure Iraqis’ freedom and 2) scare the hell out of Satanic Islamic fanatics everywhere.
As a result, instead of looking and sounding like gung-ho warriors, the cream of the U.S. Army appeared to be the Harvard Law School faculty oddly dressed in green.
The inherent, insoluble problem with tin ears, of course, is that someone who has them cannot hear anything clearly, especially criticism–so people with tin ears typically keep making the same mistakes. Also, people who have tin ears (e.g., Mr. Bush’s handlers) tend to be hired by people who themselves have tin ears (e.g., Mr. Bush).
What else can explain why Mr. Bush in a few days will set a modern presidential record when he marks the 336th day (the equivalent of almost an entire year) he has spent at his Crawford, Texas, ranch in his 4½-year presidency?
(The previous record was Ronald Reagan’s 335 days at his beloved Santa Barbara ranch–a feat that at least took RR his full eight years in office to accomplish. Also, it should be pointed out that as a committed government minimalist, Mr. Reagan spent so much time in California and away from Washington because he was humble enough to recognize that life [and government] would go on quite well even without his presidential presence. His absence from the Oval Office thus combined Reagan’s cheerful love for both personal leisure and political/economic laissez-faire.)
If Mr. Bush and his P.R. crew had ears of flesh, they would have realized long ago that the American people see a president’s White House differently from a president’s hometown house. The former residence is a serious place of business, humming with official activity and top-secret "stuff," with cutting-edge security and snipers hanging like bats from the eaves should a stranger breach the fenced perimeter. The latter is, well, a place to hang out, hang loose, and hang it all; a place where a knock on the door means that someone is asking for driving directions or a cup of Splenda, not trouble.
Despite Mr. Bush’s make-work schedule while in Crawford ("meet with Prime Minister Gottabongo of Central Flotsam Empire to discuss bilateral mad-cow strategies; huddle with four-star General Motors to coordinate SUV maneuvers during Gas-Price Crisis; raise $5 million for autistic Teen-Age Republicans"), the nonpolitical public for good reason looks on Mr. Bush’s many days back home as nothing more than pure downtime. Voters of all stripes, in fact, traditionally believe that to be the case, whether the Presidents are Democrats Harry Truman at his Southern White House at Key West and Bill Clinton in borrowed digs at Martha’s Vineyard, or Republicans Richard Nixon on Key Biscayne and Dwight Eisenhower inside Camp David.
Speaking of the sardonic and sartorial Mr. Truman, he referred to the White House as "the crown jewel of the American prison system." Maybe that’s why President Bush should consider returning before Labor Day to his stately Pennsylvania Avenue cell.
In Crawford, Texas, professional griever Cindy Sheehan (head of Gold Star Families) can claim to be in perpetual mourning for her fallen son while holding a seemingly reasonable sign to taunt the President she hates: "Why do you make time for donors and not for me?" (This despite the facts that a] the President met with her shortly after her son was killed in combat in April 2004, and b] Ms. Sheehan doesn’t want to have another conversation, just a chance to smack Mr. Bush with a media-recorded diatribe.)
Note: Cindy Sheehan’s gang is called "Gold Star Families," a nominal ripoff of the venerable and strictly decent "Gold Star Mothers," a group federally chartered 75 years ago to honor American war heroes and help their surviving families. On its goldstarmoms.com website, the genuine Gold Star society prominently prints this caveat: "Cindy Shaheen is currently in the news. She and her organization have no connection whatever with American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. We are a 501 C(3) organization and, as such, do not engage in political activities. We do support our tro0ps. After all, they are our children." (My emphasis.)
Cindy Sheehan happily surrounds herself with Bush-hating reporters who have nothing better to cover. She speaks fluent Peacenik with her fawning hordes of recycled 1960s kvetches waving "spontaneous" signs, neatly printed with a Democrat union bug, which sloganize with Leftist predictability: "Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam," "Bring Them Home Now," and "Meet With Cindy."
If the venue for this dreary liberal bawlroom were to be switched from rural McLennan County, Texas, to the intensely urban District of Columbia, Cindy Sheehan and her platitudinous pals would be just another bunch of clueless ideologues parading the sidewalks without an audience. Furthermore, George W. Bush at last would be inside the White House, safely tending to matters more important than chopping weeds while at home for another of his endless summers.