Children of the Goat

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It's a few days old, but I just now saw the AP's "Oh, yeah, what happened to them?" story about the students of Emma E. Booker Elementary School. These were the kids who sat and listened to the president read The Pet Goat (not My Pet Goat. Check your facts, Bill Maher.) as he was informed that planes had flown into the World Trade Center. Five years older and five years wiser, what do these kids remember? Besides the basic lessons of animal husbandry?

"His face just started to turn red," said Tyler Radkey, now 13 and in seventh grade. "I thought, personally, he had to go to the bathroom."

For a puzzling seven minutes, the youngsters read aloud from the story "The Pet Goat" while the shaken president followed along in front of the class, trying to come to grips with what he had been told—that a second plane had just hit the World Trade Center and the nation was under terrorist attack.

"He looked like he was going to cry," said Natalia Jones-Pinkney, now 12.

Some of the kids are more fair to Bush, including the unusually talking-point-adept Stevenson Tose'-Rigell, who muses that "You can't judge a man on seven minutes."

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  1. I’ve always thought that the critics fascination with those 7 minutes was a bit perverse. What should he have done? Dashed off the nearest phone booth, donned a blue spandex suit and red cape and flew off to save the towers? Even if you can come up with some scenario that passes the laugh test, can you really criticize him for not performing the optimal course of action at that moment?

    It’s like watching someone for 7 minutes after they found out their mom died.

  2. What should he have done?

    Um, maybe he should have calmly stopped and bid farewell to the children and then exited the classroom to address the matter? Surely there’s some middle ground between doing nothing but looking miserable and changing into a superhero. Anyway, while dwelling on these moments and trumping them up the way Michael Moore did in F-9/11 is the stuff of annoyingly crass partisan opportunism, it’s hardly the same thing to merely sadly note Bush’s lack of a proper response in that time period.

  3. There are certainly a great many grounds for criticism of Bush, so it’s never made any sense to me to dwell on this one. The air force was already scrambling; nothing he did in those seven minutes was going to change anything. There was no known foreign leader to contact. (Bush’s near-absence for the next day or so was much more troubling.)

    It’s unfortunate for the president that he was engaged in something so trivial at such a time, but that’s really all. Sure, I wish he’d been capable of springing up and making a stirring speech on a moment’s notice, but that’s a rare talent these days.

  4. I think the point is less “what could he have done about it?” – as you point out Shelby, very little.

    I would argue the issue is far more to do with his obvious paralysis, his total absense of clarity about what, if anything, to do. Bad form for a guy in charge, if you see my point.

    He should have gotten the hell out of there. He’s appearing in a known location at the time…one that was on a publically-available schedule in advance?

    If there were attacks underway, then he was at risk, and by extention, all of those kids as well. He should have gotten his dumb, bullseye wearing ass out of the room and into a moving target at the very least.

    JG

  5. Bush absolutely should have done something like get up and start speaking with people to figure out what to do going forward. While it ultimately didn’t matter on 9/11, sometimes 7 minutes do matter, and it reflects very poorly on our current President that all he could do was sit silently in a grade-school classroom while the rest of the government scrambled to deal with an evolving situation.

    It lends some credence to those who portray Bush as a puppet President.

  6. Bush absolutely should have done something like get up and start speaking with people to figure out what to do going forward. While it ultimately didn’t matter on 9/11, sometimes 7 minutes do matter, and it reflects very poorly on our current President that all he could do was sit silently in a grade-school classroom while the rest of the government scrambled to deal with an evolving situation.

    It lends some credence to those who portray Bush as a puppet President.

  7. I think the point is less “what could he have done about it?” – as you point out Shelby, very little.

    I would argue the issue is far more to do with his obvious paralysis, his total absense of clarity about what, if anything, to do. Bad form for a guy in charge, if you see my point.

    He should have gotten the hell out of there. He’s appearing in a known location at the time…one that was on a publically-available schedule in advance?

    If there were attacks underway, then he was at risk, and by extention, all of those kids as well. He should have gotten his dumb, bullseye wearing ass out of the room and into a moving target at the very least.

    JG

  8. What bugged me the most was that none of his aides bothered to say “Mr. President, maybe we should get back to Washington, now? Or at least go some place where we can talk?” Anyone can be stunned for a few minutes when receiving bad news, but the Leader of the Free World ought to have at least one grown-up on hand to pull him back to reality. There might be a case sometime where those 7 minutes actually matter.

  9. There are certainly a great many grounds for criticism of Bush, so it’s never made any sense to me to dwell on this one.

    I agree, there’s meaningful criticism and then there’s just partisan sniping. This was an unprecedented event in modern American history. Give the president, any president seven minutes to figure out whether he’s going to scramble fighters and start shooting down commercial airplanes, mobilize the military or whatever.

    When one takes a seven minute span of time after such an event and focusses relentlessly on it, you can probably mold it into anything you want. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  10. Hey, give the guy a break. Maybe he just wanted to see how the story in the book ended.

  11. Who knows what he should have done. One thing is for sure, you can criticize nearly every action in hindsight. Had Bush, put the book down and walked out immediately, I have no doubt Weigal and his ilk would today be telling us how Bush panicked upon hearing the news. It seems pretty obvious, that Bush heard the news and probably thought “holly shit” and then figured that it was better to remain calm, finish what he was doing and walk away. Maybe that was the right thing to do or maybe it was the wrong thing to do. Regardless, what he did or did not do at that moment made absolutely no difference to anything good or bad. To constantly rehash it as a way to bash Bush says more about the person leveling the criticism than it does about Bush. All and all, this kind of Mickey mouse crap is what I have come to expect from Reason in the last year.

  12. I think those 7 minutes are an important glimpse at Bush’s true character and incompetence as a leader. For the first time in his life, he was expected to deal with something on his own and make decisions without the help of his father, Rove, Cheney or anyone else and he was frozen with fear and waiting for someone to tell him what to do.

  13. I’ve always thought that if Bush had excused himself immediately he’d been criticized for making a scene and scaring the children. After all, what could he possibly have done in the few minutes that remained of the visit?

    The U.S. Presidency is four to eight years of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

  14. I believe he actually sat there for close to seven hours but the White House doctored the video. This was after they pushed the plunger on the high explosives and fired the cruise missile into the Pentagon. And ate some babies.

  15. I don’t fault him for the seven minutes of shock and paralysis. I do fault him for the three days spent running away like a coward, while Rudy toured NY and Rumsfeld helped dig survivors out of the pentagon. That was when the country needed leadership, and Bush went AWOL.

  16. Ed,

    The truth is that he was shocked that the CIA had acted so early. The plan was for it to happen in the afternoon. When it happened three hours sooner, he wasn’t sure what to do.

    What do you want to bet I could post this and your post about film doctoring on Democratic Underground or Kos and find plenty of believers?

  17. For the first time in his life, he was expected to deal with something on his own and make decisions without…help

    Is it possible that one of the things whispered in his ear is that he should just sit tight? The executive branch has more than one employee, including numerous guys paid to advise. There were thousands of people around the country hired to deal with these kinds of contingencies working on responses. I don’t see how Bush leaping up and heading to the limo was going to help.

  18. “this kind of Mickey mouse crap…”

    Har.

    That?s an expression my marine-corps ex-smokey dad dropped about every 10 seconds. Surprisingly, he hardly overused it.

    I think in fairness, John, Reason+H&R manage to do far far better than anyone else. Do you blame the magazine for the readers? The original post just linked to the story about the kids, which if not ‘serious news’, isnt exactly the same as the reader comments that seem to get you steamed.

    If I’m wrong, point me towards the no-bullshit-serious-points-for-serious-people-blog and I’ll happily follow you there.

    JG

  19. The president needs information to make decisions. He has a staff that does all that without guidance. I suspect he was notified and the staff collected data/recommedations while he displayed as much calmness as possible. If his presence was required before he was finished reading he would have left.

    AF One has all the capabilities necessary for the president to do his job. Everywhere he goes, that capability is available. His security is planned step by step, literally, someone walks his path prior to his arrival. He worries not about the plane being ready, it will be.

    No worthy president, CEO, general, etc. worries about trival food, bed, cloths, transportation, schedules, etc. Those happen as easy as we breath. You want their minds concentrating on the matters at hand, that’s the job.

  20. the rest of the government scrambled to deal with an evolving situation.

    Former Repub:

    Scrambled. Good choice of words. That was exactly the point. The at the nuts and bolts level whose job it was to deal with such an incident were scratching their heads and scrambling. Even if Bush had immediately stood up and moved into action, what would have changed except given (by my estimation) a warmer feeling in the stomach pits of a certain segment of the population.

    Oh, the president got up immediately and did something

    What did he do?

    He was… off camera, I don’t know.

    This seven minute argument is based purely on emotion. So it would have made people ‘feel better’. Most of the arguments come down to form and feel, not function.

    When the planes were hijacked, the people who were dealing with the problem were transposing flight numbers, calling the wrong planes, disconnecting flight attendants calling from said hijacked planes, airline officials wanting to deal with the issue themselves, government agencies mis-reporting times and events, and we want George Bush to filter through all of this data in seven minutes and make the world a happy fluffy place?

  21. “”I would argue the issue is far more to do with his obvious paralysis, his total absense of clarity about what, if anything, to do. Bad form for a guy in charge, if you see my point””

    I agree with Gilmore. I think Bush didn’t have a clue of what to do.

    It turned out being trival, but that’s with the hindsight glasses on.

    He should have excused himself and got down to business. I don’t think anyone knew at that time if there were more hijacked aircraft or not. I would think that he would want a sit-rep right away. Seven minutes could be the difference between shooting down flight 93 or it crashing into the Capitol building.

  22. True enough Gilmore. I am too hard on Reason sometimes.

  23. I would think that he would want a sit-rep right away.

    That would have been great had there been one. But there wasn’t one. Read this and you’ll see just how worthless a clear sit-rep would have been at the time.

  24. just how worthless a clear sit-rep

    Correction, I meant to write, how worthless a sit-rep would have been at the time. A clear sit-rep would have been impossible.

  25. Well, what Bush should not have done is pretty obvious:

    1) Not jumped up and shouted, “Holy crap! America is under attack! Thousands have just died and we don’t know what’s going to happen next! Adios, kids, I gotta amscray!”

    2) Not jumped up and shouted, “Holy crap! Airplanes are falling out of the sky, killing people, and I’m an obvious target! I’m getting my bullseye ass outta here! Adios, kids! Duck and cover!”

    Possibly even if he’d abruptly stopped the story, and said, “Children, I’ve enjoyed being with you this morning, but I’ve just received word of something that needs my attention. This is a part of my job, I’m afraid. I have to leave now to make sure that everything is going to be all right. Everyone take care of each other and be good” … the very abruptness of that might have freaked the kids. But it’s probably the best thing he could have done, all around.

    Could I have come up with that measured response within seven minutes of having a bombshell dropped on me? Almost certainly not. I remember that morning. I spent maybe 20-30 minutes listening to dumb-ass speculation on the Howard Stern Show, not even sure if this was for real or a joke in bad taste, before it occured to me to turn on a real news show and find out. But then again, I’m not trying to pretend I’m competent to commander in chief of U.S. armed forces and leader of the free world. Man’s got to know his limitations.

    I’m guessing that Bush, being on camera, surrounded by an extremely excitable audience (little kids) and knowing nothing he could do in the next few minutes would materially affect anything, decided that playing the part of the calm, imperturbable leader was the best thing he could do: “It’s not something to freak over. Be cool, stay frosty.” All in all, it was probably the second-best way he could have handled it, after the above.

    But no matter what he did, he was going to be second-guessed. There’s not a lot of precedent for this kind of thing. Do we know what FDR did in the first seven minutes after being told Pearl Harbor was bombed? Okay, he probably rubbed his hands together and hissed, “Excellent … everything is going according to my plan” — bad example. Do we know what Lincoln did in the first seven minutes after hearing that Ft. Sumter had been fired upon? Do we have video?

  26. If it were me I think I would have crapped my pants.

    Then blamed the stench on the fat kid in the first row.

  27. John, Paul, have you ever actually watched the footage of those 7 minutes?

    “Focusing relentlessly” and “remain calm” are really not applicable. They guy froze. He eyes were darting around panicky, and it was clearly all he could do to keep his shit together.

    Which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but that, combined with the barely-there speech he muttered a little while later, makes all of this talk we had rammed down our throats about the great Churchillian leader a little hard to swallow.

  28. Hmm. Check this out. According to Mary Todd Lincoln’s diaries:

    Upon hearing the news that the rebels had fired upon Fort Sumpter, my husband spent the next half an hour running about in circles and screaming like a little girl.

  29. Oh God Joe. Just admit it. There is nothing he could have done that you and Weigal wouldn’t be on here bitching about. The fact is that whatever he did makes no difference. The whole thing ought to be beneath you. The fact that it is not seriously clouds anything you have to say about Bush.

  30. Paul,
    So you do not think that the President should have immediately found out as much as we knew at that time? Of course it wouldn’t be “clear” but it would be as “clear” as it could be at that time. Do you think the President must wait until everything is “clear” before being briefed?

    I can’t judge how you run your life, but if the shit is hitting the fan in my life, I like to get involved post haste.

    Fortunately for Bush, the extra seven minutes didn’t mean anything but a little bad press. But at that time, is wasn’t “clear”, so it is somewhat irresponsible to wait around.

    Personally, I don’t rap Bush on it. But I can’t defend it either.

  31. Oh hush. The Left is just so diappointed that he didn’t do what he was supposed to, according to the old rhyme:

    When in wonder,
    or in doubt:
    Run in circles,
    Scream and shout!

    They’ve been practicing, ever since. Not that it’s ever going to do much good.

  32. and knowing nothing he could do in the next few minutes would materially affect anything

    Bush could not have possibly “known” that (what? is he psychic?), certainly not without getting up and gathering up-to-the-second information. It’s funny that people who make these assertions are also likely to accuse others of having 20-20 hindsight.

  33. John, Paul, have you ever actually watched the footage of those 7 minutes?

    joe, hasn’t everyone? I still don’t see the point. In fact (yeah, I know, y’all wouldn’t necessarily want me as president either) given his ashen look when the aide whispered into his ear about the second plane is probably not far from the reaction I’d have.

    Which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but that, combined with the barely-there speech he muttered a little while later,

    On this, I have no strong opinion. And now you’re getting into actions following the seven minutes. I guess the thing I hate about these particular Bush topics is that one can’t take a stand on something like this without being branded (or feeling like) a Bush supporter.

    I mean, fer chrissakes:

    “Sir, a plane has hit the World Trade Center, your guests are waiting, Mr. President, this way please.”

    minutes later

    “Mr. President, a second plane has hit the world trade center.”

    I mean, think of the gravity of that. Remember folks, the first time a plane hit a major skyscraper in Manhattan, it was a pure accident. This is the kind of thing that Rush Limbaugh would have criticized Clinton about. Think about that.

  34. So you do not think that the President should have immediately found out as much as we knew at that time?

    If you read the link from one of my previous posts on the 9/11 timeline, you’d realize that precious little was known, and a precious large amount was wrong, based on misinformation, contradictory, or simply unknown.

    I can’t judge how you run your life, but if the shit is hitting the fan in my life, I like to get involved post haste.

    I’m not even sure how to respond to this. This is the kind of shit that gets us cynical presidents like Clinton. You may be no more effective in dealing with a situation, but damn, you sure look good on camera…

  35. I guess to sum up, I’d rather have a president not act at all, than to act forcefully on bad information. You know, like Iraq and WMD’s.

  36. Paul, leadership is a job of poise and confidence – and where no confidence is available, theatre. I believe you’re confusing cynicism with competence.

  37. Paul, you didn’t link anything above, please post the URL, thanks

  38. I think everyone continually misses the realquestion regarding the whole affair, which is: why a goat?

  39. Stevo, we don’t know what FDR and Lincoln did in the first seven minutes after learning the country was at war, but I’ll point out that both of those presidents served in the era before things like intercontinental ballistic missiles were invented. Nowadays, if the country is under attack, seven minutes are far more meaningful than they would have been then.

  40. Stevo, we don’t know what FDR and Lincoln did in the first seven minutes after learning the country was at war, but I’ll point out that both of those presidents served in the era before things like intercontinental ballistic missiles were invented. A lot more can happen in seven minutes nowadays, if the country is under attack.

  41. Possible Bushie internal monologue:

    Dammit! I’ve got to get out of here and back to Air Force 1, so’s I can get in touch with the Pentagon and State, only the Secret Service guys say that they have to secure the route to the airfield. Who knows who is flying’ around up there right now? Holy Jesus, if the bastards that did this know I’m here, this whole school full of kids – and me! – might be the next target! The sooner I get out of here the better, but I can’t panic the schoolkids. There’s no point in moving until the SS boys give me the heads-up, anyway.

    ….I think we read this page already….

    Now, do I believe that this is what GWB was thinking? No, because I’ve got no clue what was on his mind. He could have been scared shitless, true, either for himself or for the kids. I don’t know, and neither do you. And, no, I haven’t voted for a Republican for president since 1976.

    Kevin

  42. Oh, no, John thinks I’m cloudy! That MUST mean I’m off my rocker!

    Paul,

    Just watch the tape. Do you think John McCain, or Chuck Hegel, or John Kerry, or John Murtha, or George Herbert Walker Bush, or even Duke freaking Cunningham would have reacted like that? Commander in Chief is a tough job, and it takes a tough guy. But no, we can’t have someone who’s proven his mettle or anything. We have to be stuck with Paris Hilton as president the day Al Qaeda launches its big attack.

    “If you read the link from one of my previous posts on the 9/11 timeline, you’d realize that precious little was known, and a precious large amount was wrong, based on misinformation, contradictory, or simply unknown.”

    Bush knew this at the time? He sat there, and realized without hearing the briefing that there was no information in the briefing, so it would be best to sit there? If you’ve seen the tape – that’s not what it looks like.

    “I guess to sum up, I’d rather have a president not act at all, than to act forcefully on bad information. You know, like Iraq and WMD’s.” False choice. He could have found out what was known, maybe even made an effort to get in touch with people to find out what was known, and then decided whether or not he knew enough to take action.

    What do you think the British would have done with a subaltern who looked around panicky for seven minutes after hearing gunfire?

  43. intercontinental ballistic missiles were invented. Nowadays, if the country is under attack,

    Jennifer, point taken, but not comparable. Being told “a plane crashed into a building” – especially pre-9/11- is going to elicit a far different response from “Mr. President, there appears to be a crater where a town called ‘New York’ used to be.”

    Without writing a post describing the entire national defense network there are mechanisms, both civil and military that are in place to deal with these things without having to wait for a ‘word from the president’. We aren’t the World War II German army. If bombs start landing on the homeland, the country doesn’t sit with its hands between its knees waiting for a phone call from GWB giving us the go-ahead.

    It’s entirely possible that GWB could have been assasinated just before the planes hit:

    A van occupied by men of Middle Eastern descent had pulled up to the Colony stating they had a “poolside” interview with the president, Mooneyhan said. The self-proclaimed reporters then asked for a Secret Service agent by name. Guards from security relayed the request to the receptionist, who had not heard of either the agent or plans for an interview, Mooneyhan said.

    The receptionist gave the phone over to a nearby Secret Service agent, who said the same thing ? no one knew of an agent by that name or of any poolside interview.

    The agent told the occupants of the van to contact the president?s public relations office in Washington, D. C., and turned them away from the premises, Mooneyhan said.

  44. What do you think the British would have done with a subaltern who looked around panicky for seven minutes after hearing gunfire?

    joe, we’re talking about seven minutes. This is now beginning to evolve into a ‘what would Jesus do’ tit-for-tat.

    I can’t say that Bush had the right response any more than you can say he had the wrong one. I just don’t think it’s pivotal to anything that occurred before, or after 9/11, either by Bush, or anyone who looks like him. It just isn’t productive criticism.

  45. I haven’t had anything nice to say about Bush since he revealed before his first election that he was a ZZ Top fan. But the reality of this is obvious==if you don’t have a dog in the Democrat/Republican or left/right fight you can see this for the pathetic partisan political sniping that it is. For all of their talk–most of it correct–about the disfunction and political tone-deafness of the Republicans the Democratic left is just as bad. There’s a whole bunch of us very disenchanted with the current administratation that could be fairly easily persuaded to vote Democratic if they could give us some semblance of an alternative to the Bush GOP. Unfortunately, they’re so obsessed with their hatred of Bush that they’d rather make snippy jabs that amuse their own true believers rather than provide the American voters with an alternative. Granted, the Republicans were no better during the Clinton years but that’s a lot of the reason I won’t be voting Republican either.

    What’s really pathetic about the “7 minutes” attacks on Bush’s leadership is that its so transparantly obvious that had William Jefferson Clinton been sitting there reading “The Pet Goat” while the WTC was attacked he would have been roundly praised for his “cool head” under crisis and how he took time to reflect on the situation and not rush to judgement. And the right would be saying the same thing about Bubba that the left is saying about Dubya…

    There’s enough legitimate criticism of the Bush Administration that this sort of trivia shouldn’t even be relevant. The reality is that the Democratic/left is as clueless as the right/GOP–that they don’t have a double digit lead in every contested race in the country with the dismal poll numbers and approval ratings surrounding everything that Bush and his minions do is clear evidence of their utter cluelessness….

  46. The seven minutes don’t bother me. It’s the next 12 hours which bother me.

    President Bush was invisible in those 12 hours. He should have been in New York as fast as AF1 could get him there.

    Yes, he might have been risking his own life to do so. [Based on the what was then known about what was going on.] However, a leader’s job is to BE SEEN.

    Churchill’s security people did not want him going about London during the blitz, but he did.
    That’s leadership. Reagan, Truman, or Kennedy would have been in New York that afternoon, regardless of what the Secret Service wanted.

  47. Why does everyone seem to assume that the schoolchildren would have panicked had Bush simply decided that he needed to cut short his visit? Why would that have induced hysteria in the kids?

  48. Why does everyone seem to assume that the schoolchildren would have panicked had Bush simply decided that he needed to cut short his visit? Why would that have induced hysteria in the kids?

    Maybe not “hysteria,” but fright and abandonment, quite possibly.

    People are probably jumping to this conclusion as a result of (A) logic and (B) actual experience of being around actual kids. If an adult authority figure acts panicked, kids get upset. Especially if the panicked adult authority figure ditches them.

    Those who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon in real life can also get an approximate sense of it by watching the “stalled cars in the rain” scene in Jurassic Park.

    ———————–
    “and knowing nothing he could do in the next few minutes would materially affect anything”

    Bush could not have possibly “known” that (what? is he psychic?), certainly not without getting up and gathering up-to-the-second information. It’s funny that people who make these assertions are also likely to accuse others of having 20-20 hindsight.

    Yeah, OK, maybe I’m projecting my own likely reactions too much. But personally, in the absence of an aide (who presumably knows more about the situation at that point than the prez) saying something like, “Sir, an airplane is about to hit the World Trade Center” or “Sir, we need to have you available immediately in order to authorize Response Plan Thunderbolt should it become necessary,” or in the absence of very immediate physical danger — flames creeping up my tie, the prick of a knife in my ribs — I can’t envision any situation that is better served by leaping to my feet in front of a crowd of spookable little kids than by taking a few minutes to at least try to look unruffled, and maybe take a few minutes to compose myself, before switching gears.

    Best course of action, as I said, would be for Bush to compose himself immediately, give a short explanatory but reassuring speech, and then bolt with as much appearance of calmness as possible.

    That’s probably what Jack Bauer would do. But Bush didn’t, or couldn’t.

  49. Actually, I never suggested that Bush should have “panicked” in front of the schoolchildren. I agree that seeing him lose it probably wouldn’t be good for the children.

    But as someone who has 3 kids, has coached kids, and has been a kid, I can’t imagine a group of children so sensitive that they would react poorly to Bush calmly ending his visit to tend to real-world matters. By the way, since when is it more important to keep a bunch of schoolkids calm than it is to respond to the worst foreign attack on our nation’s soil?

    As many commenters have noted, this isn’t the biggest blunder Bush ever made. But I reiterate that Bush’s paralysis in that situation tends to reinforce the impression of him as incompetent.

  50. Former Republican —

    You make good points. I was overdefending.

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