It's not exactly "Presidents Gone Wild!" but for the normally staid Group
of Eight Summit, a video of President Bush sidling behind German Chancellor
Angela Merkel and delivering an impromptu neck rub is, well, as wild as it
The scene, captured by a Russian TV camera, hit the Internet like a summer
wildfire Tuesday, and it may be most memorable for the German chancellor's
reaction. Bush applies his hands to Merkel's shoulders and neck while she's
speaking with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi; the chancellor hunches her
shoulders, then throws her hands up to stop the unexpected massage with a wan
smile -- and an expression that can best be translated as "Ewwww."
While the incident didn't get a lot of play on major TV media, it was just
one of the Bush G-8 gaffes that garnered considerable space in the blogosphere
from London to Los Angeles.
Bloggers on sites like www.truthdig.com expounded at length on the U.S.
president's now-famed open mike incident in which Bush let slip the "s-word"
while talking with British Prime Minister Tony Blair; it wasn't so much the
potty mouth as the president speaking with his mouth full that horrified many
But it was the massage for Merkel -- notably the only female at the G-8
table -- which earned Bush the title of "Groper in Chief" on some Web sites.
One German tabloid, Bild-Zeitung, which posted the link to the video and
headlined it: "Bush: Love Attack on Merkel!"
And Dialog International, a Web site that specializes in German-American
politics and culture, said Bush's behavior raised questions about the American
president and his profile abroad.
"When he is away from his script and his handlers, his true lack of
intelligence and emotional maturity surfaces for all to see. The dangerous
situation in Lebanon ... requires true leadership. Don't look for it from the
The G-8 dustup prompted Bush fans and Republican insiders to say that the
critiques were much ado about a back rub.
GOP commentator and Fox News political analyst Karen Hanretty said the
outraged reaction shows how "President Bush just can't win."
"Aren't these the same women who have been angry about cowboy diplomacy?"
she asked. "Do they want a kinder, more sensitive Bush -- or a cowboy? Once
again, there's no pleasing women," she said. "Give them the cowboy and they
want Alan Alda.''
Hanretty went on to say that "these women who would criticize the prez for
making a friendly gesture are the same women who refused to say anything about
Bill Clinton when he was accused of sexually harassing Paula Jones. Where were
they when Katherine Willey was grieving for her dead husband and Bill Clinton
was rubbing them in all the wrong places?''
Hoover Institution research fellow Bill Whalen, a former adviser to former
Gov. Pete Wilson, says the generous coverage of Bush's back rub and his open
mike comments fully illustrates the power -- and occasional "goofiness" of
the Internet in its ability to turn quotes and images into major events for
what he calls the "get-a-life contingent.''
"We have this perception that presidents are like Quakers or Amish; they
don't say any dirty words,'' he said. "But occasionally an s-bomb will slip in
As for that neck rub, Whalen quipped: "There are those who say the
president should be more Clintonesque ... maybe he misunderstood what they
But commentator and author Steve Young's blog on the Huffington Post Web
site says Bush looks like the "Lounge Lizard in Chief'' -- so he advises
Democrats to seize the moment and make use of "the irony of a president who's
supposed to represent our best, giving the chancellor of Germany an
inappropriate and unrequested back rub.''
Even some veteran White House insiders say the incident is a hair-raiser.
"I mean, did Reagan do that to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher?
He's not giving massages to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin -- and he's
the one who thinks he has a great relationship with Putin," said Martha
Whetstone, former political director for the Northern California Democratic
National Committee and a longtime Arkansas-born friend of former President Bill
Clinton -- who certainly made news of his own on the female front.
"You could use this video for sexual harassment training. It's something
you'd show and say, "No one in a boss' position should be doing that,"
"This is a guy whose favorite quote is, 'I'm a leader,' said Whetstone.
"Leadership is knowing protocol, knowing you don't diminish other leaders.
Diplomacy is about respect. Leaders should not act that way.''
Janette Gitler, a Marin County-based media and strategic planning
consultant, says that Americans can "add it to the long list of embarrassing
moments for our president.''
She said that if Bush were a media training client, she'd be "horrified
that someone of his stature would behave in such undignified and
"Obviously, the president isn't included in any kind of sensitivity
training at the White House ... because it's clear from the video that (Merkel)
didn't appreciate it,'' Gitler said. "I'm sure she didn't want to humiliate
him, but you don't give her many options.''
San Francisco Chronicle reader Christine Curtis was outraged and wrote in
to say the video was a scary look into Bush.
Merkel "recoiled as I would also do if someone came up from behind me and
started touching me,'' Curtis said. She wondered if the president was "drunk or
on something," adding "he is a frat boy gone wild in a grown-up, very scary and
Whetstone said the moment echoes something Bush likes to brag about: "He
says he's going to be 'me' -- because that's what people like. But sometimes
'me' isn't a good thing.' ''
But Whalen quips that maybe "would San Francisco readers prefer he rubbed
Tony Blair's shoulders?''
©2006 San Francisco Chronicle