Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Reticence of George W. Bush

Despite his faux-Texas twang and his occasional Irish-setter-like goofiness, James Fallows of The Atlantic remarks that maybe some of that upper-crust Connecticut/New England prep school breeding is emerging from the former president.

Since leaving office he has — like most of his predecessors in their first years out of power — maintained a dignified distance from public controversies and let the new team have its chance. He has acted as if aware that there are national interests larger than his own possible interests in score-settling or reputational-repair.

That lesson has been lost on former Vice President Cheney.

I am not aware of another former President or Vice President behaving as despicably as Cheney has done in the ten months since leaving power, most recently but not exclusively with his comments to Politico about Obama’s decisions on Afghanistan. (Aaron Burr might win the title, for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, but Burr was a sitting Vice President at the time.) Cheney has acted as if utterly unconcerned with the welfare of his country, its armed forces, or the people now trying to make difficult decisions. He has put narrow score-settling interest far, far above national interest.

What’s ironic is that when they were in office, the roles were reversed: it was Mr. Bush who made the papers — and the daily calendars — with his daily Bushisms while Mr. Cheney was hardly heard from in his undisclosed locations. Now Mr. Cheney, along with his daughter Liz, are like the White House party crashers; they keep showing up and sticking their mugs into the camera.

I wonder if now we’re seeing the real dynamic that went on in the White House during Mr. Bush’s administration; that despite all the stories we heard, it was Mr. Cheney who was the loose cannon while Mr. Bush was the reticent one… and that he really was the smarter one after all. Or perhaps he’s just heeding the old adage that it’s better to be thought of as a fool and keep your mouth shut than to open it and remove all doubt.