President Xanax?


Tom Shales, The Washington Post TV critic, was so underwhelmed by President Bush's press conference last night that Shales wonders if the CinC was on drugs:

Maybe Bush thought he was, indeed, coming across as cool and temperate instead of bored and enervated, and this was simply a rhetorical miscalculation. On the other hand, it hardly seems out of order to speculate that, given the particularly heavy burden of being president in this new age of terrorism—a time in which America has, as Bush said, become a "battlefield"—the president may have been ever so slightly medicated.

In fairness to Bush he'd have to tap-dance on a flag pole while curing cancer to earn a passing mark from a smushy lib like Shales. But Shales is dead-on about Bush seeming to move at two-thirds speed last night.

I have to agree with Reason readers that the intention was for Bush to seem full of regret about the prospect of war. Instead Bush came off as depressed and possibly tranked up.


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  1. Eloquence is not necessarily related to intelligence. It IS, however, highly desirable and often necessary in effective leadership. When taking a group into the unknown they must trust that the leader knows what he’s doing. Absent a proven track record, there’s no better tool for that than a silver tongue.

    The alternative, of course, is to just bully them into it.

  2. Lefty,

    So you’d rather have a leader with the _appearance_ of knowing what he’s doing (even if he doesn’t) than one who actually knows what he’s doing but not convey that well through effective communication?

    You must’ve loved Reagan…

  3. Hey, I didn’t make the rule. That’s just the way it is. I can’t think of another president who has had more trouble getting at least initial world support for fighting another country.

  4. Bush sounded, speech-patterns-wise, a lot like Reagan last night. And I ain’t saying which year of Reagan he sounded like.

  5. “If Bush starts looking like this regularly it will be a cause for concern, but his not looking thrilled to be dealing with the jackals in the White House Press Corps is at least understandable.”

    Jackals in the White House Press Corps? Admittedly I didn’t hear the whole thing, but they must be some kind of jackals to ask such probing questions as, “Mr. President, can you comment on how your faith has helped guide you these past weeks?”

    Talk about softball questions. The White House Press corps hardly ever asks tough questions. He was asked: “How do you explain the lack of support around the world” and he completely dodged it.

    Where was this question: If Saddam is such a threat to our (and presumably everyone else’s security), why is it that we have to bribe the Turks with billions of dollars in “loans” in order to get them to let us use Turkey as a base for operations?

  6. misty and eric:

    You’re right, of course. Those three and four hour days are wearing him out. He can’t keep up this pace forever. He needs to make another trip to Crawford and start having those one-paragraph exec summaries distilled down to one sentence.

  7. I can’t think of another president who has had more trouble getting at least initial world support for fighting another country.

    That’s because other Presidents didn’t bother asking. Bush 1.0 didn’t have permission for Panama, Reagan didn’t have permission for Libya or Grenada, Carter didn’t have permission for that Iran rescue fiasco, Nixon didn’t have permission for Cambodia, Johnson didn’t have permission for Vietnam, Kennedy didn’t have permission for the Bay of Pigs invasion.

    We sort of had permission for Korea, though. So there’s that.

    What has changed isn’t the President’s ability to get other nations to sign off on American military action — it’s the crazy idea that we NEED their permission. They seldom ask for ours (unless they want us to send troops along with them).

  8. Bush on Xanax? Why not? That’s what this war is about, right? Read the following:

  9. Um, yeah, or maybe just a tad exhausted from, you know, being leader of the free world?

  10. Yeah, can you imagine being the ONE person to make final decisions that affects the safety, present and future, of a billions of people? He is a human being after all. I bet he doesn’t get too many lazy Saturday afternoons to recoup.

  11. We may need to invent a new punctuation mark … for the long, unsettling … pauses that Bush puts … between random words. Did we end up with … President Shatner?

    Also, what’s with his dropping initial articles in his sentences. “Regime of Saddam Hussein seeks weapons … of mass destruction.” Perhaps he’s secretly a copy-editor with too much headline-writing experience?

    I know that Noo-kyoo-lur is a bit much to expect (no president since Eisenhower’s gotten it right, I’ve read), but is it too much to expect that a well-paid politician and public figure might employ a diction coach?

  12. Grant, I just read the entire transcript of last night’s press conference, and I can’t find a single instance of the phenomenon you’re describing (dropping the initial article). Could you point out an instance so we know what you’re referring to?

    Plenty of transcripts online at

  13. Rondel,

    The press routinely cleans up Bush’s language for transcripts.

    I don’t want to be too hard on the guy, but it was little embarrassing to hear him to say we need to “ax” somebody about something.

  14. They don’t add words he didn’t say.

    Either way, the transcript I read was fresh and unedited, and you’ll find plenty of them.

    I’m not fighting over whether Bush is eloquent or not — I’m curious to know an instance of the phenomenon described by Grant.

  15. I’ve heard Shales speak on the radio & I wouldn’t accuse him of sounding particularly energetic himself.

    If Bush starts looking like this regularly it will be a cause for concern, but his not looking thrilled to be dealing with the jackals in the White House Press Corps is at least understandable.

    As for “joe” being embarrassed by Bush saying “ax,” well, joe, it was embarrassing to read “to hear him to say” in your post. You did mean “to hear him say,” didn’t you?

  16. I think Bush muddies the articles sometimes (usually by not voicing them fully), but I’m not sure he actually drops them. At least, I didn’t notice any glaring omissions when I was listening to his prepared remarks.

    He came off pretty much like he always does, at least on the radio, but I didn’t see the video so I’ll have to take peoples’ word for him looking a bit under the weather.

  17. Why is the opinion of Tom Shales about any Republican worth considering? He is as left-liberal as possible at the WP and that’s saying something. Which is not to say that he hasn’t written some great stuff reviewing TV (his columns on KL Gifferod’s Christmas specials are worth the price of admission). But for him to say something nice about a Republican would take a seismic shift in the universe.
    As far as Bush’s “nuke-u-lar” pronunciation goes: It bothers me (as does Tom Bwokaw’s steady undercurrent of impedimented speech) but is it any worse than “brilliant” Jimmy Carter’s pronunciation of “nukeier?” Even John Updike noted it in one of his “Rabbit” books.

  18. Depressed? A little, perhaps. Eric’s point is good: Damn tired, more like it.

    Regretful? Some. I read earnest seriousness, a recognition of the caught between two evils nature of the predicament. Jeff, I didn’t sense any Clintonesque manipulation. Bush is no actor.

    Medicated? Dunno. Does it matter, really? I dig Douglas’ point about the press corps. (One chap was patently rude, failing to address him with even so much as “sir”.) I know I’d need drugs to keep me from fisking some of the more stupid questions right off.

  19. Is it possible that all very articulate people are intelligent, but not all inarticulate people are dumb?

    Shales appears to apply the usual left-liberal standard to Bush – because he’s not articulate at press conferences, it must mean that he is incorrigibly stupid. Or as a Dem party organizer told me, “that man is so retarded I don’t know how he manages to keep breathing.”

    By that standard, a close friend of mine must be a moron. Sure, he’s a successful civil engineer, and sure he’s doing important work on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project, one of the biggest and most prestigious public works projects in decades. But he would come across as a knuckle-dragging moron in a press conference, because he doesn’t talk much, he speaks in fragments, he drops articles and sometimes even mumbles.

    Is it possible that what we do is more important than what we say, and how slickly we say it?

  20. He read from a prepared list of questioners and kept them in a set sequence. I wonder if he was prepped on the questions they would ask, too.

    If this was, indeed, impromptu, Bush is improving. He controlled his smirk pretty well and there were no outright gaffs.

    For the complete Bushisms go here:

  21. This thread is embarrassing. I thought this was Yet here we have supposedly intelligent people valuing eloquence over substance.

    Listen to the words, not how they are delivered. Actors deliver words flawlessly and yet we have all seen a recent close-up of the intellectual (and, I might add, moral) vacuum behind their eloquence.

    If the war on terrorism is to be won, it is not a matter of only finding and stopping those who have attacked us. Why is this a hard concept? If every person who every had anything to do with 9/11 died tomorrow, is the war over? Is terrorism finished?

    Bush has correctly identified that terrorism is a by-product of a culture that is defective. Oooooh, so imperialistic of us to say that. Rather than wring your hands about the hegemony of the US, consider the source of terror: in great part it springs from the indoctrination of the youth of the fundamental Islamic world.

    Bush understands that the war will be won with freedom, which will break the back of the mullahs who brainwash a generation to die and take us with them. Freedom is the natural state of the human spirit and it values life and order. Bush seeks to transform the hotbeds of indoctrination with freedom. His main targets: Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iraq is a device to continue the change in the Middle East. Iran, bubbling with rebellion, will not long remain repressed pinned between a liberated Iraq and Afghanistan. With these three countries in the throws of democratic explosion, Saudi Arabia will then be compelled to change.

    All you who chuckle gleefully when Bush forgets a word or stutters – enjoy your fantasy of superiority over a brilliant and moral man. You will have that luxury because he has the balls and the brains to save you from your own folly by reshaping the Middle East.

    We’re such bullies, aren’t we!

  22. Oops. Typo.

    Good thing these posts aren’t made behind the Great Seal of the President of the United States, on worldwide teevee, while promulgating America’s foreign and military policy during one of the most significant crises in the world.

    That would just be axing for trouble.

  23. Look, if our president had delivered his message with anything other than the measured, deliberate style that he used, the libs and other anti-Americans would have been all over him for being a “pro-war cowboy”.

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I think our president is doing an excellent job. And it’s a damned difficult thing he’s going through.

  24. Omnibus Bill:

    You’re dead on. I’ve had occasion to attend a few lectures by Nobel prize-winning scientists over the years. One in particular comes to mind (I won’t say names, but if you’re even moderately aware of advances in biology over the past 50 years, you’ve heard of him) who couldn’t lecture his way out of a wet paper sack. I don’t think anyone would condsider him a moron.

    Eloquence and intelligence are weakly correlated at best.

  25. I didn’t think Bush came across as stupid. He seemed exhausted and miserable, and I felt sorry for him.

  26. Rondel,

    Looking at transcripts, I don’t see the article-dropping. But watching him last night I definitely noticed it. My guess would be that he distributed the speech original to the press (since he was rather obviously and indeed clumsily reading his speech off of the podium), and the press then printed the text rather than a strict transcript.

    Alternatively, I could have hallucinated the whole thing. I’m sure I heard it, and indeed commented on it to my wife at the time. Hmm. Eh.

  27. Yeah, I guess you’re right. We can be as stupid as we want now.

  28. Another Dan,

    Be careful what you wish for. Too many people listening too carefully to administration words like “crusade” or “old Europe” can hurt your cause a bit. I have read your posts elsewhere–for some reason you just won’t admit the simple fact that most sensible people, for or against, can see very clearly: the administration is not doing a decent job of selling this. People are scared because they have not explained what they are doing and why they are doing it adequately…words, presentation, attitude, consistency, all of it matters a great deal. Maybe most people would like a better explanation than “I promised to protect America and I’m going to do that” over and over. Maybe they’d like to know a bit more of the positive results in the Mideast that the President expects…as a matter of fact, anything positive at all!

  29. Another Dan,

    I just found that the Causus Belli blog says it better than I:

    “…the President’s remarks were largely designed to signal his calm, rational resolve and thereby build a larger domestic consensus for war with Iraq.
    It is not surprising, therefore, that Bush referenced Sept. 11th both in the first sentence of his prepared comments and then at least six times thereafter. It is also not surprising that Bush made a number of sweeping statements about the “direct threat” posed by Iraq, although he never explicitly described the scenario in which Saddam would strike the U.S., either directly or via some proxy group.

    In my opinion, the public deserves better. They deserve an honest discussion of the issues. They deserve an accurate and realistic assessments of the threat. They deserve a reasoned analysis of why a war in Iraq is in the direct national interests of the United States. They deserve more than rhetoric.”

  30. “People are scared because they have not (adequately) explained what they are doing and why they are doing it …”

    I’m usually willing to give “the people” the benefit of the doubt. But honestly, anybody who at this point doesn’t understand the What and the Why just hasn’t been listening. If you were, you could have heard all this spelled out back in September 2001, for God’s sake. There’s nothing new or mysterious here.

    I mean, agree or disagree with the policies and strategies, but claiming they haven’t been clearly set forth out is kind of ridiculous.

  31. Mary:

    I appreciate your thoughts. However, I disagree with the premise: that we are entitled to a clear and contemporary explanation of all that is underway beyond what has been put forth. Bush could never describe what I have suggested – the calculated dismantling of fundamental Islam – and remain President. It happens to be the core strategy and a sound one, but it is an unspoken strategy.

    So you got Colin Powell at the UN, giving you as thorough an explanation as is possible on the surface issue of the danger Iraq represents. You have the insanity of the military being forced to wait in the desert and on ships while public opinion for multi-lateralism is slaked at the UN, when the very countries from whom we are trying to win approval are motivated by everything but a noble opposition to war.

    With past presidents, you did not know the rationale for dangerous military actions until they were over. Why is it – particularly in a post 9/11 world – you need to know the shoe size of every soldier in the Persian Gulf this time?

    It is politics. Those who are either vehemently anti-Bush or just mildly so – these people who were silent as Sphinxes during Kosovo just will not let the man lead.

  32. Well said Rondel. It is revealing of their opposition only to the man, not the policy.

  33. Jesus, guys…talk about a pile-on…

    Personally, I admire the hell out of anyone who’d regularly post to a site that is decidedly libertarian/right under the handle of “Lefty”…especially since he does a pretty decent job of it most of the time. It’s good to have someone around who keeps this from being a boring “yeah-me-too” affair.

    “Idiot”, “dim”, and “disabled” don’t reinforce your arguments, guys…you can do better…

  34. Which fucking policy are you talking about?

    The one that’s ruling now is the one that was slipped in with no debate by Paul Wofowitz, et al. The one that says starting now anybody that even starts to challenge our military might will be wiped out pre-emptively. And if it takes nukes to do it, that’s OK.

    Again, there has been absolutely no public debate on this yet it is our stated policy.

    That’s leadership? That’s bullshit.

  35. Lefty, you are an idiot. No policy? What is unclear to your dim mind? Are you unaware of what occurred on 9/11? That event requires we take one of two courses – react and respond or preempt. Your preferred react and respond course would pepper the landscape with 9/11s, but at least your anti-US, anti-imperialist appetite would be satisfied.

    The current policy – as I described earlier – is crystal clear to a thinking individual. I know you are insulted that the Pentagon hasn’t faxed you the invasion plans along with all the intelligence related to their assessment of the Middle East, but when you are a clerk at a food mart, you tend to get left out of the loop.

  36. Brian – Udaman!!

  37. My girlfriend tells me I shouldn’t hang out with these guys. They’re a bad influence.

    Compared to most of the other places though, this place is tops. At least they think and speak in complete sentences. And I haven’t been called a motherfucker once.

  38. Excuse me. Sorry. I must have been mistaken.

    Let me go get the military keys and hand them over to a dry drunk, born again Christian to go whup some Muslim ass.

    I have some TV to watch, or something.

  39. Speaking of TV…

    Dick Cheney on the History Channel, Feb 23 2003, “Operation Desert Storm” (aired at 9pm Pacific Time), speaking about the decision not to go into Baghdad at the end of Operation Desert Storm:

    “As long as we were leading the coaltion liberating Kuwait we were looked upon, I think, with great favor, and wide spread support in the Arab world. If we crossed over, to the point where we were going to Baghdad, taking down an Arab government, and replacing it with some other kind of government, then we would have been the colonial imperialist power and the perception would have been very different.”

  40. Another Dan,

    It’s sort of mean spirited to attack anyone labelling himself “lefty.” It’s an admission of disability. He could just as well have chosen the moniker “Stoogy” or “I lack the capacity for reason.” Or, “I, like a small child, value naive fairness over justice.” Perhaps, “Please help me, I’m incapable of surviving on my own.” Or, simply and most accurately “I am afraid.”

    Now is it fair to hold someone like that to any kind of standard of rationality and insult them when they don’t meet it?

  41. James:

    You are right! Now inconsiderate of me. I would not have gotten hostile, but our boy went to the f-bomb and then to the old, tired, intellectually dishonest mantra “nobody has explained this to us!” Lord almighty, I cannot think of any foreign policy issue in my life that has been more overexposed and overexplained than this one.


    Cheney was right in the context of a pre-9/11 world. Does this event not mean anything to the left? I suppose you think we deserve it for our worldwide hegemonic hypocrisy. Hey, emmigration is always an option.

  42. Brian:

    You are entirely correct that I do myself and my cause a disservice when I resort to insults. For that, I apologize. However, two observations: 1) I have always opened politely (if passionately) in these debates (please check my first posting in this thread, for example) and have then quite frequently been verbally assaulted by the left, and 2) I am amazed at the hypersensitivity when the verbal volleys begin here, yet our President is labeled everything from an idiot to a bumbler to a medicated fool – hell, the title of this thread is President Xanax! Let us direct a little of the civility you desire towards him, yes?

    As for Lefty and others concerns about this war, I only stress that the only way we can emerge victorious (free from terror) is if we dismantle the establishment that produces the terror. That establishment is a scattering of fanatic, fundamental Islamic states. Afghanistan and Iraq are handled militarily because the first attacked us directly and the second lost a war of agression and has failed to honor a cease-fire and therefore has forfieted their soveriegnty. Iran and Saudi Arabia will change without military intervention, aided by a new Iraq and Afghanistan. Pakistan is changing, getting under control as we speak. Syria? Don’t know. The point is that this is the plan, a preemptive plan brought on by 9/11. We have a large role as well in this transformation – a lot of guilt (past sponsorship, imperialist tendencies, troops that need to move, an imperative that Israel and Palestine revisit Oslo and find peace), but a checkered past in not an excuse for passivity.

    I am not perfect, the US is not perfect, but 9/11 was evil – enormous evil – and such evil can only be countered with an enormously bold plan. Bush is dumb? Dumb as a fox. I’ll take a fox in front of our henhouse everytime.

  43. Dammit, Lefty, why can’t you just fill up your gas tank and be nice? Don’t you know buying crap and taking politicians at their word is the way to world peace?

    You’re either with us or against us!

  44. Dammit, Lefty, why can’t you just fill up your gas tank and be nice? Don’t you know buying crap and taking politicians at their word is the way to world peace? You’re either with us or against us!

    Few things worse than when the smarmy, bombastic FreeRepublic/DemocraticUnderground/MediaWhores tone starts infiltrating places with otherwise reasonably intelligent discourse.

  45. Lefty:

    Fortunately, there is nothing more pervasive than religious beliefs. Such beliefs define morality and moral behavior and ethics hopefully shape a good presidency. Now, the founding fathers, clearly understanding that general theological prinicples had to be distilled from specific religious practice crafted the Declaration and Constitution, which allowed for the essential morality of religion to be applied to social organization without requiring sponsorship or practice of a particular regilion. That is good. Extracting religious morality from public life is not.

    Bush has never evangelized or even referenced specific Christian doctrine during his Presidency; he has, with great frequency, referenced God, faith, prayer and divine purpose (offensive only to athiests and polytheists, I guess).

    (NOTE: Lefty, I like your intelligence while I disagree with some of your positions. E-mail me on my link and I will include you in a theological and political e-dialogue that you may find very interesting. We seek diverse opinions.)

  46. Another Dan,

    I happen to live 3 1/4 miles away, but that doesn’t matter. We all know about Sept. 11, your mantra about Sept. 11 is just ridiculous. The argument actually is: is the President making the case that this will prevent more Sept. 11’s, or will it cause them. EVEN WITH YOUR INANE MANTRAS, YOU HAVE MADE HIS CASE BETTER THAN HIS ADMINISTRATION DOES! I know what his real plan is from months of reading websites and newspapers. He has only just STARTED to mention it, at his AIE speech, which I am sure was not watched by most of the American public, before that it was all misleading crap, dare I say lies. Thomas Friedman intereviewed on Tim Russert this weekend said he deeply regretted that the adminsistration cynically decided to link Al Qaeda to Iraq only because it played better in the polls than telling the truth about wanting to remake the Middle East.

    Pundits on TV have only begun to explain the truth of the situation in the last few weeks; this is the only thing most hardworking Americans have to learn about what is going on (That’s why “Ms. I Hate Books” Karen Hughes is a favored advisor. I give up, will stop being Ms. Nice–I think his press conference was absolutely lousy, more bogus talking points most probably edited by “Ms. I Hate Books”. This press conference you are defending so hard actually was the last straw that changed a lot of very intelligent fence sitters to being against invasion…see for example, and, not to mention that Newsweek’s home page is now featuring Jonathan Alter’s “Not Convincing” over a picture of a press conference. YOU CALL THIS SUCCESSFUL? I doubt they have changed one mind worldwide. If they can’t handle convincing on-the-fence-Westerners, I am really dreading what they will do trying to convince Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds to work together.

  47. Gladly.

    I apologize for the language. You’ve kept yours clean (wrong, but clean) and I should do the same.

    Religion and politics do not mix at all and morals and morality have little to do with religion. Atheists don’t run around killing each other any more than Christians and Muslims.

    Now that I think about it…, you don’t want to hear that.

  48. Misleading crap? Lies?

    States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. … All nations should know: America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation’s security.

    We’ll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.

    Our war on terror is well begun, but it is only begun. This campaign may not be finished on our watch — yet it must be and it will be waged on our watch.

    We can’t stop short. If we stop now — leaving terror camps intact and terror states unchecked — our sense of security would be false and temporary. History has called America and our allies to action, and it is both our responsibility and our privilege to fight freedom’s fight.
    — George Bush, January 2002

  49. Hey…why do you think they call it “dope”…

  50. Sigh. First of all, there is nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade, whether or not someone gets insulted. Secondly, I was not *just* making a personal attack. My frustration is with the Left in general. “Lefty,” in this thread is just the immediate embodiment of the lefts knee-jerk sloganeering approach to the world in general, and this war in particular. Go back and read the thread. Does anything Lefty says look like part of a rational dialog? If so, you are not a rational person yourself. Thirdly, Lefty is a big boy. Which means that he should have to argue on rational terms like any other adult, and also that he didn’t lose any sleep over web post.

  51. Back on the topic of the thread. Yes, Bush looked sleepy. I think he is probably pretty tired.

  52. Tat:

    Outstanding archive work! You have, in one fell swoop, laid waste to the mindless prattle of the likes of Mary. Mary, is there something unclear in the President’s message that Tat has copied for us? You can disagree with the policy of course, but to argue confusion is just to indict you own intelligence.

    As for the press conference, I am neither defending or attacking that performance – because only shallow people regard it as a performance! So what? The message, as Tat illuminates, has always been clear, revealing that 90% (perhaps not you, Mary) of the opposition to the war is thinly veiled hatred of Bible-based conservatives, of which Bush is a stellar example.

    eric and misty captured the salient point at the start of thread:

    “Um, yeah, or maybe just a tad exhausted from, you know, being leader of the free world?”

    Posted by eric at March 7, 2003 09:16 AM

    “Yeah, can you imagine being the ONE person to make final decisions that affects the safety, present and future, of a billions of people? He is a human being after all. I bet he doesn’t get too many lazy Saturday afternoons to recoup.”

    Posted by misty at March 7, 2003 09:34 AM

    This is what a conscience does to people, Mary. It weighs on you. Clinton could have done the little off-Broadway act you so desire because he lacked a conscience.

    Finally, I will admit the attempt to link Al Qaeda to Iraq was a mistake. It stems from the fact that the true objective – dismantling extremist fundamental Islamic states – can only be whispered off camera.

  53. Good James!

  54. Whatever happened to the old fashioned idea that a politician’s (or anybody else’s, for that matter) private life was just that – private. And, in my view anyway, there’s nothing more private than religious beliefs.

  55. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/19/2004 11:39:45
    Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around.

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