Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Farting Voltaire

Steve Benen follows up on his August 14 post about Pres. Bush's supposed sudden passion for Albert Camus and French existentialist philosophy. You probably will not be shocked to learn that there is more to Bush's hidden intellectual side than meets the eye:

Maybe it was the influence of his wife, Laura, a former librarian, or his mother, Barbara, a longtime promoter of literacy. Or perhaps he was just eager to dispel his image as an intellectual lightweight. But President Bush now wants it known that he is a man of letters. In fact, Bush has entered a book-reading competition with Karl Rove, his political adviser. White House aides say the president has read 60 books so far this year (while the brainy Rove, to Bush's competitive delight, has racked up only 50). The commander in chief delved into three volumes in August alone -- two on Abraham Lincoln and, more surprising for a man of unambiguous convictions, The Stranger, Albert Camus's existential tale of murder and alienation.

Steve links to two White House-provided versions of Bush's summer reading list.

Yeah. Riiigghht.

I try to avoid categorical statements about people I've never met and don't know personally, but I feel comfortable saying there is absolutely no way on earth the president read all of these books. None.

First, while the reading list has its share of baseball titles, there are some fairly serious books here, including John Barry's "The Great Influenza," Geraldine Brooks' "Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women," Gordon Wood's "Revolutionary Characters," and (I kid you not) "Macbeth" and "Hamlet" by Shakespeare. I don't want to say these books are above the president's reading level, but for a guy who doesn't read newspapers and has never shown a hint of intellectual curiosity, it's a bit of a stretch.

Second, there's the time element. Some of Dan Froomkin's readers started crunching the numbers.

Of the twelve books listed, I come up with a total page count of 5,356 pages, including 1,585 pages not available until at least 4/2006 of this year. That is an average page count of 450 pages per book. Multiply by his 60 books so far this year for a total page count of 27,000. 27,000 pages means the President would have to average a little over 115 pages per day. Reading a quick pace of a little over a minute per page, that is two hours a day of reading, and let's be honest, longer if you want to retain information in these types of books. And this from a man who prides himself in not reading the paper. I don't buy it.

And those are just the 12 books Walsh listed. The White House press office gave C-SPAN a list of 25 books -- which were just part of the president's summer reading list. For a guy who likes to get to bed early, who devotes a couple of hours a day to exercise, and who ostensibly oversees the executive branch of government during a war, let's just say this is more than a little "ambitious."

Even if we assume that this is all transparent White House spin, and that the president didn't read "The Stranger" or much else from his reading list, the question then becomes, why bother with this narrative anyway?

USNWR's Walsh wrote that "portraying Bush as a voracious reader is part of an ongoing White House campaign to restore what a senior adviser calls 'gravitas' to the Bush persona. He certainly needs something."

I agree he needs "something," but does anyone seriously believe that producing bogus reading lists will suddenly give people the impression that Bush is "a man of letters"? A voracious reader? An intellectual heavyweight?

C'mon. We're talking about a guy who's supposed to be folksy and simple. It's an image the White House has worked hard to cultivate over the years. The president seems to enjoy it -- otherwise he wouldn't openly mock people with PhDs.

Plus, there's that habit Bush has of openly farting, especially when greeting brand-new, young aides; and of regaling his staffers with flatulence jokes:

Adding fuel to that last point -- and further indication of a nation run by a man who is suffering from arrested development -- was an item in U.S. News and World Report, largely ignored by the mainstream press, that Bush loves to amuse himself by openly passing gas in front of White House aides. Apparently, his biggest thrill is -- and we are quoting from U.S. News and World Report -- "He's also known to cut a few for laughs, especially when greeting new young aides."

We guess this is what Republicans mean when they claim Bush brought back "honor and dignity" to the White House.

"Farting" for fun to humiliate new young White House staffers isn't just passing gas, it's a downright disgrace to the American people and to the White House.

We apologize for bringing it up, but Bush is the guy who is playing whoopee cushion jokes while our kids are dying in Iraq -- and no one in the mainstream press thinks that this is some underlying indication that he is unfit for office?

Is this the way a man who needs to have gravitas restored to his persona would behave?

Well, actually-- yeah. But that doesn't make him Voltaire.

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