Sex, Envy, Proximity
By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times

Saturday 15 October 2005

President Bush started his weekend early. He decided to leave for Camp David at 2 p.m. yesterday.

Can you blame him?

The White House has lost its mind - and its survival instincts. The monomaniacal special prosecutor is moving in for the kill. Republicans are covered in dirt. And we may be only moments away from another Newsweek cover on another President Bush headlined "The Wimp Factor."

W.'s political career was structured to ensure that he would never suffer his father's problems by seeming weak or wobbly on conservatism. Everything would be about projecting strength and protecting the base.

But the reverse playbook got washed away with Katrina, when Karl Rove and W. did not jump to attention at the word hurricane. W. ended up with a job approval rating of 2 percent among African-Americans, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. He missed the golden hour, as it's called in combat medicine, the precious time when acting fast may save those in jeopardy.

W.'s presidency has become branded with rushing into one place too fast and not rushing into another fast enough.

Astonishingly, with the choice of Harriet Miers, this Bush has ended up exactly where the last Bush ended up: giving affirmative action for the Supreme Court a bad name and angering conservatives, who call him a mollycoddle.

Just as the father clearly missed the wily strategist Lee Atwater after he died, so the son clearly misses the Atwater protégé Karl Rove, who has been distracted by kidney stones and trips to testify to the grand jury looking into the outing of Valerie Plame.

Lyndon Johnson said the two things that make politicians behave more stupidly than anything else are sex and envy.

You might add one more: proximity. I always think men are more prone to get seduced by proximity into making unwise choices. They tend to be a bit lazy. They'll grab the closest doughnut off the platter. Like Jude Law and the Nanny.

It was Monica Lewinsky's proximity that caused Bill Clinton to forget the dignity of his office. It was Harriet Miers's proximity - she has spent more time with W. than any aide except Andy Card - that caused George Bush to forget that flattery and catering to his every need are not qualifications for the Supreme Court.

"We're innately lazy, like lions," a male friend said. "We like whoever happens to be around."

President Bush is still the same loyalty enforcer he was in his dad's White House. He likes deference and dislikes checks and balances. Having one of his handmaidens on a Supreme Court designed to be free of "obsequious instruments," as Alexander Hamilton called cronies, makes perfect sense to him, just as paying conservative columnists to spread the administration agenda made sense.

Without his "Boy Genius," Mr. Bush has turned to other shields. Laura gave the fidgeting and blinking president support on the "Today" show on Tuesday, telling Matt Lauer that criticism of Ms. Miers might be sexist.

That's silly. The conservatives want a female justice - they just want one who will be reliably certain to influence the court to curb women's rights.

On Thursday, again with weird and stilted body language, and an earpiece that kept falling out, W. held a teleconference and tried to use 10 American soldiers from the Army's 42nd Infantry Division in Tikrit and one Iraqi soldier as props to offer a more upbeat assessment of the security preparations for the weekend vote.

The surprise wasn't that it turned out to be rehearsed, although that angered some uniformed officers at the Pentagon who felt the troops were being politicized and used as military wallpaper. If these brave young men and women can be trusted to carry guns and kill insurgents, these officers reasoned, why can't they be trusted to speak into a microphone without stage-managing and a rehearsal from a civilian Pentagon spin doctor?

The surprise was how inept the event was. The White House was always able to pull off these stagey, scripted events during the campaign and when selling the Iraq war.

It's hard to believe sunny reports from Tikrit with Syria turning into Iraq's Cambodia. As James Risen and David Sanger write in The Times today, "A series of clashes in the last year between American and Syrian troops ... has raised the prospect that cross-border military operations may become a dangerous new front in the Iraq war."

It was hard to tell whom that teleconference was aimed at impressing - unless it was just meant to cheer up the edgy W. Instead, it just made him seem more lost than ever.