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Now They Tell Us

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, September 12, 2005; 1:33 PM

Amid a slew of stories this weekend about the embattled presidency and the blundering government response to the drowning of New Orleans, some journalists who are long-time observers of the White House are suddenly sharing scathing observations about President Bush that may be new to many of their readers.

Is Bush the commanding, decisive, jovial president you've been hearing about for years in so much of the mainstream press?

Maybe not so much.

Judging from the blistering analyses in Time, Newsweek, and elsewhere these past few days, it turns out that Bush is in fact fidgety, cold and snappish in private. He yells at those who dare give him bad news and is therefore not surprisingly surrounded by an echo chamber of terrified sycophants. He is slow to comprehend concepts that don't emerge from his gut. He is uncomprehending of the speeches that he is given to read. And oh yes, one of his most significant legacies -- the immense post-Sept. 11 reorganization of the federal government which created the Homeland Security Department -- has failed a big test.

Maybe it's Bush's sinking poll numbers -- he is, after all, undeniably an unpopular president now. Maybe it's the way that the federal response to the flood has cut so deeply against Bush's most compelling claim to greatness: His resoluteness when it comes to protecting Americans.

But for whatever reason, critical observations and insights that for so long have been zealously guarded by mainstream journalists, and only doled out in teaspoons if at all, now seem to be flooding into the public sphere.

An emperor-has-no-clothes moment seems upon us.

Read All About It

The two seminal reads are from Newsweek and Time.

Evan Thomas's story in Newsweek is headlined: "How Bush Blew It."

"It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States," Thomas writes.

In this sort of environment, Bush apparently didn't fathom the extent of the catastrophe in the Gulf Coast for more than three days after the levees of New Orleans were breached.

"The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.


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