September 4, 2004


Secrets of the Garden (ANNA DEAVERE SMITH, 9/03/04, NY Times)

Brent Williams, my bull-rider friend in Idaho, sincerely believes that President Bush would help him haul hay when he's home from the rodeos. He and his buddies appreciate how Mr. Bush took time to meet the 2003 rodeo champions. He can't see Senator John Kerry doing that.

In November, the American people will show us which candidate has the broadest reach. Who finds them where they live? Who touches them where it matters? By visiting both the Democrats in Boston and the Republicans in New York, I intended to look at the theater of what each does, to see if it would lead me to understand a little bit more about the hearts and minds of the American people. I learned a lot about oratory in Boston from Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, in particular. In New York, I had the Bushes inside the hall and the demonstrators outside. I expected lots of theater.

One of the first things I noticed as I walked around this week was offstage, on the cover of Newsweek. President Bush, in a blue dress shirt that could also pass as a work shirt, is standing alone, with the words "No Excuses" emblazoned just below his chest.

I asked Elizabeth Roxas, former principal dancer at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, "If I were to play Bush, how would I exude the kind of toughness that's on that cover?" She said, "It leads from the chest. Even the way his arm is sort of separated from underneath his armpits - it's not closed in." It looks like he's going to reach for his guns.

The public has danced all over Mr. Bush's verbal gaffes for four years. It has become clearer here that it's not about the words.

Richard Slotkin, the author of "Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in 20th-Century America," explained to me how the cowboy gunslinger myth might fit with this political campaign.

"The thing that the cowboy knows, he knows instinctively," Mr. Slotkin said. "And everybody in the audience knows what it is. It's 'a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.' You are pitted against an enemy that is so merciless that it's kill or be killed."

In 2000 MSNBC was prepping for the debates and they had a jury analyst on to describe what she saw when she looked at the two candidates, what she would tell clients just from how they carried themselves. She said George W. Bush had the best walk she'd ever seen, that it just exuded command. The flip side of that, as Mr. Bush last night noted himself, is that folks who hate you see it as cocky strutting. But he had one moment of physical genius during the debates. Al Gore had apparently decided that he could intimidate Mr. Bush by invading his space and thrusting his chest at him like some kind of rutting baboon (must have been his alpha male stage). Mr. Bush defused the entire childish ploy with a devastating gesture--whether with forethought or out of instinct, he started answering a question then glanced up to find the Vice President hovering over him, did a double take and then gave him a withering look that conveyed more eloquently than words the thought: "What the heck do you think you're doing you jackass?"

By itself the interaction told viewers which man would be a more capable president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 4, 2004 8:14 AM

Tall guys always think they're being intimidating by towering over a shorter person. All they're really doing is exposing their vulnerable areas.

Posted by: Brandon at September 4, 2004 9:31 AM

On the other hand, he probably could have thrown Bush off-stride if he had gone into the shouting, wild-eyed street-corner preacher mode Gore has honed to perfection over the years. But he not only would have lost the popular vote, put probably would have been banned by court order from visting at least two-thirds of the U.S. states to avoid scaring little children or frightening the elderly into heart attacks.

Posted by: John at September 4, 2004 9:53 AM

Slotkin got that right. No time for effetes until this mess is cleaned up.

And bless our men in the military, "the long and the short and the tall, bless them all."

Posted by: genecis at September 4, 2004 11:38 AM

"...glanced up to find the Vice President hovering over him, did a double take and then gave him a withering look..."

I think most people missed the withering look part, at least consciously, as I heard no one remark on it. But that look sealed the deal for me. Barbara's son all the way.

Posted by: Rick T. at September 4, 2004 12:04 PM

The BEST moment of the debates. Before the debates, I heard Paul Begala crowing that Al Gore was taller than GWB and that the taller candidate always wins. I assumed when I saw Gore do this that Begala (who had been prepping Gore for the debates) had urged him into this extremely unwise confrontational crap in order to show how Gore supposedly towered over Bush.

First of all, he didn't tower over Bush, and secondly, it made Gore look like a crazy stalker when GWB gave that friendly -- but firm --
'hello nutcase' nod. I'd love to see a continuous loop of that moment.

Posted by: Melissa at September 4, 2004 3:58 PM

So that's why Bush lost the popular vote by half-a-million!

I don't even remember what OJ described.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at September 4, 2004 6:23 PM

You didn't quote enough of that article. I read it three times. I think her conclusion was that the Democrat party is smarter and more sensitive than the Republicans and that one of these days they are going to slam the door on the Repulicans just like Nora in a "Doll's House" leaving her MCP husband Cheney blubbering in incomprehension, or something like that.

Maybe they will move to Paris. Let me know I will be glad to help them pack.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 4, 2004 6:29 PM


exactly. That Mr. Bush won an unwinnable race in '00 suggests that '04 will be easy.

Posted by: oj at September 4, 2004 7:08 PM


Everytime someone mentions Bush and -500,000 votes, I am compelled to point out that Bush won 73% of the counties in the vote. Who's popular now?

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 6, 2004 7:29 PM

And thirty states--which is why a 60-40 Senate split is easily doable.

Posted by: oj at September 6, 2004 7:38 PM