The Abu Ghraib prison scandal was raging, American soldiers were battling Iraqi insurgents near a Shiite shrine, and the Europeans were arguing with the United States over the powers of a new government in Baghdad.
But on that hot, troubled Washington morning of May 14, when President Bush met in the Roosevelt Room of the White House with foreign ministers from the Group of 8, the world's leading industrialized democracies, he spoke to them for exactly eight minutes, took no questions, then left.
"We listen to his speeches, and then the president is gone," said a European diplomat who asked not to be named because he did not want to be seen as criticizing Mr. Bush.
Last week, when the president made a rare trip to Capitol Hill to try to soothe Republicans who are anxious over the increasing chaos of the American occupation, he gave them a 35-minute pep talk, shook hands, took no questions, then left.
"I was hoping the president would have some back and forth," said Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, the only Republican in the Senate who voted against the war in Iraq.
Specifically, Mr. Chafee said he would have liked to have asked Mr. Bush one question about Iraq: "If this thing starts spiraling downward, what are our options?"
All presidents live in a bubble, but Democrats, European officials and a group of moderate Republicans say that Mr. Bush lives in a bigger bubble than most. As the problems of the occupation and insurgency in Iraq have intensified, they say, Mr. Bush has appeared to retreat more than ever into his tight circle of aides.
and it goes on, discussing how the president decides where he will speak based upon whether he will encounter any dissent there (he skipped his own daughters' graduation at u of texas and yale because the universities told him that there would be big protests there).
for all my disagreement with his administration on various policy decisions, what i find the most galling is the president's refusal to even listen to anyone with different views. supposedly he has a bad temper and gets snippy when people disagree with him (a hazard of any rich kid growing up surrounded by a bunch of sycophants), so maybe his handlers fear he will have some outburst that is contrary to his "football buddy" image they so carefully try to cultivate. or maybe they're afraid that he will give more mangled english responses if any questions are actually posed to him. supposedly, his malapropisms get worse when he gets nervous.
or maybe, just maybe, some of his handlers realize that some of his policies are simply not defensible when faced with serious questions. i guess i'm going a little too far with that one. it seems pretty unlikely that anyone who thinks that badly of his policies would be a handler for the president. it's more likely that they think the policies are defensible but that bush is not a good enough speaker to do it.
several months ago, when the democratic primaries were winding down but not over yet, in that brief period when it seemed to be between kerry and edwards (and edwards was still thought to stand a chance), i saw edwards speak on t.v. it occurred to me that edwards would cream the president in a debate. kerry seems less articulate, but, i hope still able to take bush down. it isn't all that hard and someone needs to burst his bubble.