AUSTIN -- For terrific entertainment, watch the Washington press corps swoon over George W. Bush. The famous charm offensive (he's calling congressmen by cute nicknames like "Big George") has the chatting classes producing the most priceless gushing heard since Newt Gingrich bestrode the political world like a colossus.
The more alert among them have noticed that the policies don't seem to quite perfectly reflect the charm offensive. Welcome to Dubya's World's: Bush is a walking definition of cognitive dissonance -- what you see is not what you get.
Frank Rich of `The New York Times' noted that in his relentless photo ops, Bush has "surely posed with more black Americans than voted for him." As Texans know, the eternal Bush photo op of the man posing yet again with small children of minority persuasion is always stepped up just before he does something awful. Like trying to knock 200,000 poor kids off a federal medical insurance program. This is compassionate conservatism.
Several of the swifter students in D.C. have questioned Bush's executive order reinstituting the Reagan gag rule on women's health clinics abroad, pointing out that the only consequence of this policy is to increase the number of abortions as more women are unable to get contraceptives.
The question arises: Do we think Bush realizes this and did it anyway to pay off the religious right, or do we think he doesn't get it? And the answer, as always with Bush, is . . . it's hard to tell.
No one has ever been able to figure out if he understands the consequences of his policies. Or, as is frequently the case, if he knows his policies are having contradictory results.
One of the funniest weekend thumb-suckers was by Richard Berke in `The New York Times,' announcing to an astonished world that there are some Democrats who are still angry about the election. Imagine! Berke reports with a straight face: "This fury can be hard to detect in Washington, where, Mr. Ashcroft aside, every day brings more images of cheery Democrats embracing Mr. Bush."
The non-cheery Democrats include Susan Albach of Dallas, who is in the ranks of those who are Not Handling This Well.
"Are you in anger or depression?" I inquired.
"I'm still in denial," she announced firmly.
The really smart folks in Washington are those keeping an eye on the numbers -- how big is this tax cut, already at $2 trillion, going to get once the corporate lobbyists start porking out on it, and what's left for anything else? The profoundly dumb people in Washington are going around saying, "Recessions are good for you."
I love this line of argument, especially from pundits who make more than $1 million a year. Yes, they gravely opine, recessions are part of the business cycle (these are the same people who were saying until last month that we were in a New Economy and could look forward to perpetual growth), and furthermore, they are morally good for us. They cure irrational exuberance and hubris.
No one can deny that irrational exuberance and hubris have abounded in recent years, but that's not who gets punished by recessions. Last hired, first fired.
The working people who never got ahead at all in the '90s are the very ones who will be losing their jobs now, and the fatuous complacency with which the prospect is being greeted is another example of a disconnect so enormous that it's funny.
Sort of. But then, to quote Berke again, "This fury can be hard to detect in Washington."