By Eugene Robinson
One hopes the leader of the free world hasn’t really, truly lost touch with objective reality. But one does have to wonder.
Last week, George W. Bush invited nine conservative pundits to the White House for what amounted to a pep talk, with the president providing all the pep. Somehow I was left off the list—must have been an oversight. Some of the columnists who attended have been writing about the meeting or describing it to colleagues, and their accounts are downright scary.
National Review’s Kate O’Beirne, who joined the presidential chat in the Roosevelt Room, told me that the most striking thing was the president’s incongruously sunny demeanor. Bush’s approval ratings are well below freezing, the nation is sooooo finished with his foolish and tragic war, many of his remaining allies in Congress have given notice that come September they plan to leave the Decider alone in his private Alamo—and the president remains optimistic and upbeat.
Bush was “not at all weary or anguished” and in fact “very energized,” wrote Michael Barone of U.S. News and World Report. He was “as confident and upbeat as ever,” observed Rich Lowry of National Review. “Far from being beleaguered, Bush was assertive and good-humored,” according to David Brooks of The New York Times.
Excuse me? I guess now he must be in an even better mood, since the feckless Iraqi government announced its decision to take the whole month of August off while U.S. troops continue fighting and dying in Baghdad’s 130-degree summer heat.
It’s almost as if Bush were trying to apply the principles of cognitive therapy, the system developed by psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck in the 1960s. Beck found that getting patients to banish negative thoughts and develop patterns of positive thinking was helpful in pulling them out of depression. However, Beck was trying to get the patients to see themselves and the world realistically, whereas Bush has left realism far behind.
“He says the most useful argument to make in support of his policy is to show what failure would mean,” Barone wrote of the president and Iraq. “It would mean an ascendant radicalism, among both Shia and Sunni Muslims, and it would embolden sponsors of terrorism such as Iran. Al-Qaeda would be emboldened and would be able to recruit forces.”
Excuse me again? This is what Bush believes would happen? Hasn’t he noticed that these catastrophes have already befallen us? And that they are the direct consequence of his decision to invade and occupy Iraq?
At a news conference last week, someone tried to point this out. Bush replied with such a bizarre version of history that I hope he was being cynical and doesn’t really believe what he said: “Actually, I was hoping to solve the Iraqi issue diplomatically. That’s why I went to the United Nations and worked with the United Nations Security Council, which unanimously passed a resolution that said disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. That was the message, the clear message to Saddam Hussein. He chose the course. ... It was his decision to make.”
Let’s see, we have learned that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. That means Bush is claiming that Saddam Hussein “chose” the invasion—and, ultimately, his own death—by not showing us what he didn’t have.
“Bush gives the impression that he is more steadfast on the war than many in his own administration and that, if need be, he’ll be the last hawk standing,” wrote Lowry. The president says the results of his recent troop escalation will be evaluated by Gen. David Petraeus, wrote Barone, and not by “the polls.”
Translation: Everybody’s out of step but me.
One of the more unnerving reports out of the president’s seminar with the pundits came from Brooks, who quoted Bush as saying: “It’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.”
It’s bad enough that Osama bin Laden is still out there plotting bloody new acts of terrorism, convinced that God wants him to slay the infidels. Now we know that the president of the United States believes God has chosen him to bring freedom to the world, that he refuses to acknowledge setbacks in his crusade and that he flat-out doesn’t care what “the polls”—meaning the American people—might think. I’m having trouble seeing the bright side. I think I need cognitive therapy.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at symbol)washpost.com.
(c) 2007, Washington Post Writers Group