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On a week when Janet Reno – architect of Waco and the Elian Gonzalez raid – complains about the war on terrorism on the grounds that she has “trouble with a war that generates so many concerns about individual liberties,” it really doesn’t matter what Frank Bruni writes about George Bush. At least the Bush administration is rousting foreign terrorists rather than harmless American citizens and a small Cuban boy.
Still, at the risk of my job with Human Events and his with The New York Times – I really love Frank Bruni’s new book, “Ambling Into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush.” Bruni is my friend, but I can prove it has absolutely nothing to do with that.
We’ve got a file on Bruni at Human Events, cataloguing some of his world-class snippy comments about Bush for The New York Times. I’ve always explained these away with the excuse parents invariably use for their delinquent children: My kid is fine, but he’s hanging out with a bad crowd. I don’t know how Bruni got mixed up with a bunch like The New York Times, but there it is.
Moreover, Bruni is snippy about everyone, including the press. These are some of the most satisfying sections of this book. He witheringly describes the insecurity driving the media’s group-think reporting style: Reporters fixate on “tidy plot lines,” as he calls them, and “when one emerges, few reporters want to find themselves on a different, lonelier page.”
Bruni does not address how the “plot line” on the leading Republican candidate is always, invariably, without exception, that he is a bozo. But he does observe that in the case of Bush, this judgment – treated as “stark and irrefutable” by “some observers” (as Bruni terms bitter, angry leftists) – was “willfully selective and oblivious to a contradictory body of facts.”
During one campaign speech, Bush was asked about the mapping of the human genome. Bruni writes: “I could see my colleagues widen their eyes and draw in their breath, steeling themselves for catastrophe, and I quickly shot a glance at my recorder to make sure it was working. This promised to be priceless. Would the genome be a vehicle to make sure the American dream was touching every willing heart?”
And then Bush gave a fluid and serious response on a topic he had never before addressed publicly. It’s hard to imagine any other reporter who would describe his own prejudices with such candor.
According to Bruni, the press’ querulous fixation on Bush’s verbal gaffes was the result of reporters trying to “quell the boredom” of having to cover stump speeches. This was “undoubtedly one reason – and not an especially noble one – that we came to focus so much on his unintended and unfortunate torturings of the text.”
Inasmuch as the reporters covering Gore did not seem to be afflicted by the same phenomenon, another explanation for the obsession with Bush’s mistakes could be the media’s deep, burning hatred for Republicans. As Bruni also notes, Gore “tended to drone on and on, in singsong, narcotizing cadences best endured by the heavily caffeinated.”
Incongruously – and reminding us of the degenerate crowd he hangs with – Bruni adds, “Clinton nostalgia was inevitable: None of these guys filled a room the way he did.” Why does the media keep saying this?
We’ll never hear the end of Bush saying “subliminable,” but the press has collective amnesia on Clinton having nearly ended his political career with that gaseous windbag of a speech he gave at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. More tellingly: Can anyone remember a single meaningful phrase Clinton ever uttered? His most famous lines are laugh lines.
Indeed, it was precisely because of the Clinton-induced nostalgia for former President Bush that his son emerged as the early front-runner in the 2000 presidential election.
One of Bruni’s most affecting stories about Bush is how he became homesick on the campaign trail. “An unusual theme started coursing through his less scripted remarks,” Bruni writes. “He talked about how much he missed his three cats, Ernie, India and Cowboy, and his dog, Spot.” Bush, Bruni observes, “was homesick, so much so that he could not help but let it show.”
When Bruni later asked Bush if he had any tricks for making hotel rooms more comfortable, Bush revealed that he brought his own feather pillow with him when he traveled. That was cute enough, but a few days later, Bruni reports, Bush “asked us if we too traveled with our own pillows and expressed surprise that we didn’t.” The only travel aid Clinton seemed never to be without were stacks of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” for regular distribution to his girlfriends.
Whatever Bruni’s style and political predilections, he is an honest and perceptive reporter. That cannot help but produce a portrait of Bush as an affectionate, playful, completely genuine person – in every way the molecular opposite of the flimflam artist previously occupying that office. The country can sleep well at night. We know Bush does.