Case in Point: By Chris Honoré
The Oliver Stone film "W" was here briefly, and it was a strange and at times uncomfortable movie to watch. At times provocative, perhaps insightful, it relied a bit too much on Psych 101, meaning it focused in part on W's lifelong unresolved relationship with H.W Bush. aka Poppy.
Nevertheless, the movie did beg a question that seems more and more interesting as W nears the end of his final term.
Jay Leno, during a recent monologue, described how a man was caught trying to scale the White House fence in the dead of night. Leno, pausing to deliver his money line, explained that the Secret Service made W return to the White House, telling him that he only had a couple of months to go.
Watching W as he treads water, keeps his game face on and gives legacy interviews to major news networks, it's hard not to wonder if almost from the outset he felt he was ensnared in a job not of his liking. There's campaigning and there's being elected and suddenly discovering that the presidency is more 24/7 than not. It's a job that requires a commitment to complexity and an attention to detail, while sitting through daily meetings with men and women delivering robust white papers, buttressed with charts and graphs and expert opinion, all dealing with a revolving door of problems.
There's a scene in "W" where W is eating breakfast and Cheney is discussing enemy combatants. W looks up and says, "Yeah, right. You mean those guys we're holding down in Guantanamera." Cheney looks at him for a beat and says, "That's Guantanamo." W, forking a mouthful of eggs, answers, in effect, "Yeah, whatever."
It was a comedic moment, but also unsettling, for here was a man who sat in the Oval Office, at the helm of our government, and what comes to mind is the sinking realization that he is not equipped, not by ability or inclination, to be our CEO or commander in chief.
The problem is you simply can't wake up one morning and decide being president is a bad fit. And you can't create a dust up, after a year or two in office and decide to move on. For W, in the past, there was always another job around the corner. Or, if Stone's "W" possesses even a modicum of truth, if you hit a rough patch at work you can call Poppy and see what he can do with his connections.
Being president means you're committed for the long haul and the party leadership will happily explain that it's an eight year tour of duty if they can sell four more to the public who are busy being frightened by the war on terror and reminded daily of a yellow to orange to cinnabar alert. All you have to do is campaign like there's no tomorrow in that let's-have-us-a-barbecue style and when elected rely on the V.P. Remember to delegate and what the heck, skip the intelligence summary on Sundays. Plus the White House comes with a plane, helicopter, room service and cable. Want to get away? Camp David.
When W was recently interviewed by ABC's Charlie Gibson, he was asked what one do-over would he like to have. Bush, often characterized as someone not given to introspection or reflection, said, "I don't know ... The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq .... And you know, that's not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different."
Of course, Gibson did not point out that the intelligence had been nicely finessed by the Bush-Cheney-neocon White House and reframed in the shape of a mushroom cloud. So, in truth, the intelligence was different until it wasn't. And his answer didn't approach, even tangentially, a do-over.
To agonize about a do-over means taking responsibility for an event which is embedded with regret.
Anyone hanging out on a playground could have handled the do-over question when contemplating the last eight years. The list is long and infamous. But perhaps the do-over that doesn't immediately come to mind would be the 2000 November election results, as handed down by the Supreme Court, which could have turned the last eight years into the Gore administration.
And the consequences of that do-over would have changed history while sending W back to a life for which he is far better suited.
It's not hard to imagine him (in fact it's scarily easy) standing behind the bar at an upscale country club, schmoozing with the members, making drinks and jokes, handing out nicknames or walking the club links, or managing a baseball club, or simply cruising through his life trying to do no harm. And being happy with himself and with the languid easy-does-it days before him (which is the life he is about to resume while building his presidential library and commuting between Dallas and Crawford). But in the White House, doing the heavy lifting? Not that easy.
Doing a job that requires an act of will to go to each day is part of the human condition. Hundreds of thousands of people leave for work each morning and wish, with all their being, they were going to some other address to do something very different. Far more than we might imagine have a clear picture of what that job would be.
But it's a stretch to imagine a man or woman making the kind of supreme effort to get elected President of the United States and then walking the halls of the White House, surrounded by all the trappings and grandeur and history of the office and suffering from buyer's remorse. But that may be exactly what happened to W.
In his most solitary of moments he may have stared off into the distance and wished only to be somewhere else. We'll never know. He'll never tell us. Or perhaps he already has.