Ron Fournier, the bland and slightly repugnant grocery store brand breakfast cereal of journalism, is very concerned with the state of his profession. No he’s not worried about his fellow commentators once again engaging in hysterical nonsense regarding terrorism, as it is the job of a news person to crawl into the fetal position when facing such threats. Nor is Ron particularly concerned with political respondents becoming useful sycophants of the important people whom they are supposedly reporting about. Sending your sources saccharine crush notes or even considering going to work with these fine powerful men is just what is expected for your modern Washington correspondent.
No what has been giving Ron Fournier night terrors for the past five years is the possibility that some of his less than enlightened colleagues might look back on the legacy of one George W. Bush and see eight years of miserable and all-encompasing failure. Ron Fournier instead would like folks to focus on the real lesson of that Presidency: that W was a pretty awesome dude when you really think about it.
Now you might be sitting in a McDonald’s right now, stealing wi-fi in order to send out your 60th hopeless job application of the week while trying to forget about your underwater mortgage and the insanely high medical bills of your disabled Iraq war-veteran son. These troubles might then make you think that the 43rd President was kind of a douche. But according to Ron Fournier, your petty concerns about the “policies” or “actions” of the Bush Administration are irrelevant to understanding the inherent goodness of a man who let an entire major city drown:
Ari Fleischer walked into the media cabin of Air Force One on May 24, 2002, and dropped identical envelopes in the laps of two reporters, myself and Steve Holland of Reuters. Inside each was a manila card – marked by a small presidential seal and, in a simple font, “THE PRESIDENT.”
Handwritten in the tight script of President George W. Bush, both notes said essentially the same thing: “Thank you for the respect you showed for the office of the President, and, therefore, the respect you showed for our country.”
What had we done? Not much, really. An hour earlier, at a rare outdoor news conference in Germany, Steve and I decided to abide by the U.S. media tradition of rising from our seats when the president entered our presence. The snickering German press corps remained seated. “What a contrast!” Bush wrote. “What class.”
Yes unlike those contemptuous krauts AMERICAN journalists know how to show respect for their authoritarian father figure. Fournier wants you people to remember that politeness is always measured by the thank you notes that a person sends, not the people that one indiscriminately bombs without provocation.
So Ron, how else have we failed to recognize the existential humanity of a man who enabled Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney?
Bush’s note, a simple gesture, spoke volumes about his respect for the office of the presidency. He did not thank us for respecting him. He knew it wasn’t about George W. Bush. He was touched instead by the small measure of respect we showed “for our country.”
The same sense of dignity compelled Bush to forbid his staff to wear blue jeans in the White House. Male aides were required to wear jackets and ties in the Oval Office.
George Bush loved America so goddamned much that he installed the same strict dress code that one would expect in Houston’s finest segregated country clubs. “Dignity,” after all, is entirely about your personal appearance and presentation. So follow the Bush example and make sure that your house is clean and neat when the bank repossesses it.
He was a stickler for punctuality. Long-time adviser Karen Hughes asked him years ago why he was always early for appointments. “Late is rude,” Bush replied. He thought that if people were going to take the time to see him, he shouldn’t keep them waiting.
Yes George W. Bush is so cognizant of the importance of time that he didn’t wait around for Hans Blix to finish putzing around Iraq looking for WMD’s before starting that glorious war. And sure Bush might have been almost two weeks late in visiting New Orleans after Katrina, and might have ignored the metastasizing financial crisis throughout his eight years in office, but that doesn’t speak to his humanity. No what is important is that Bush never fucked up the lunch plans of Ron Fournier.
His record as commander-in-chief will be long debated, as it should be. But for this story, at least, let’s remember that Bush insisted upon meeting U.S. troops and their families in private and after his public events, so that he could give them undivided attention.
He told his staff, “I never want to look at my watch and say, ‘I’ve got to go.’”
How gracious is Bush to meet with some of the hundreds of thousands of young men and women that he sent into epic catastrophe with insufficient supplies and a non-existent exit plan. Meeting Bush must have must have left such wonderful tingling sensations in those veterans where their limbs used to be.
For as much time we spend understanding our presidents’ policies and politics, relatively little effort is spent trying to understand them as people. We mythologize them as candidates and demonize them as presidents, denying our leaders the balm that soothes mere mortals: Benefit of the doubt.
Disclosure: I am the worst offender. I get paid to hold leaders accountable, not to walk in their shoes. Conversely, I am also a bit biased.
Yes because if it is one thing that the Press Corps needs to do, it is to soften their focus on the various good men in power. This whole accountability thing accomplishes nothing but detracts from the important human interest story that is political journalism by making people all icky and opinionated about stuff. Thank you Ron Fournier for once again showing us that a democracy can only function when we the people “respect the office” by ignoring our leader’s tiny moments of fallibility (like authorizing torture or ignoring warnings about 9/11) and instead focusing on the little things, like how the man treated his appointment book with care and grace.