Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Real Cowboys Don't Smirk

I'll give the President a pass on an occasional "disassemble" for "dissemble," if he will just stand up and answer questions from the non-planted media members at an occasional press conference. He avoided them like HIV in his first term, but now that his "mandate" seems to be fraying in the middle — it is more resolute than ever at the extremes — Bush seems willing to face reporters without a script, at least one he can read off the teleprompter.

On the radio, the President sounds like the good old boys I encountered in the oil patch during college summers. Men from Texas and Oklahoma who grew up in times when men stood in a hiring line at the rig, waiting for one of the crew to screw up so they could step forward and take the job. They did not surrender their drawl as they moved north to Colorado and Wyoming. It was a badge, a Purple Heart, and it made their stories better, their jokes funnier, their criticism more palatable.

So when I hear the Bush voice, I don't reflexively recoil, though I know he's a New England-born patrician lately come to Texas. My grandfather the rancher was born in Connecticut and moved to Kansas about the same age as when Bush went to Midland. By the time I knew him in Arizona, he made Gary Cooper look like a greenhorn off the stagecoach from St. Louis.

Besides, if Bush believes in adopting frozen embryos, what's wrong with implanting someone else's speech inflections?

On radio, you don't see the smirk, the grey suit, the Presidential seal. It's just you and a familiar plainspeaking voice, a bit squeaky around the edges. I understand why a lot of people might find that comforting in a leader, and it ain't all about Social S'curity and war in Eye-rack.

After Reagan, and now Bush 43, I wonder if we will ever see a well-spoken, erudite president again. Just as test pilot Chuck Yeager's dry and laconic reports informed the cabin patter for generations of airline pilots, will we forever listen to fireside chats that sound like they came from the leader of Rig No. 19's morning tower crew or the foreman of the Bar Heart Ranch?

The President responded to a question about the pace of diplomacy with North Korea over nuclear weapons, ""It's either diplomacy or military. And I am for the diplomacy approach."

Maybe if you talk like you have common sense, eventually you get some.

Or maybe if you skipped the diplomatic route and now have an intractable mess on your hands, you see the virtues of getting other nations involved in negotiations.

Or maybe you simply treat the countries that actually have nuclear weapons differently than those possibly and unverifiably developing weapons of mass destruction.

Either way, these common-sense words might sound comforting until you think about countries like Iran. "If we have the bomb, Satan will negotiate. If we are merely suspected of wanting the bomb, we will be attacked. Full, surreptitious, speed ahead."

Real cowboys don't travel with security details and they can't call in the F-16s, so when they're in a strange bar, they don't brag, they don't smirk, they don't pay for drinks with someone else's money, and they don't tangle with an ass they aren't absolutely ready to kick.

The accent filtered into the enclave of Midland, Texas, but not the lessons that should've gone with it, which is too bad for us all.

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