Suspending Disbelief


Sunday is usually not a serious day for news. There’s always a scrap or two of something quotable from the morning talk shows – that’s their purpose, after all – but it’s usually pretty ephemeral stuff, all but forgotten by Monday afternoon.

But not this Sunday – at least not to my reading of a story in the Monday papers about a comment by President Bush that aired yesterday on ABC. Here’s the recap from a New York Times story:

Mr. Bush has been saying for months that he believes Republicans will keep control of the House and the Senate, and he is not changing his tune now, even if it means taking the rare step of rebuking his own father.

In an interview shown Sunday on ABC News, Mr. Bush was asked about a comment by the first President Bush, who said this month that he hated to think about life for his son if Democrats took control of Congress. “He shouldn’t be speculating like that, because he should have called me ahead of time,” the president said, “and I’d tell him they’re not going to.”

Okay, you might be tempted to chalk this up under Things Which Must Be Said Although Not Entirely Believed – something any president has to resort to from time to time.  The story’s headline, after all, refers to Bush’s duty as “Optimist in Chief.”

But does he really believe this? Has Karl Rove actually convinced the president – as he’s tried to convince others in the party faithful – that everything is under control, that the GOP’s get-out-the-vote effort will pull out this election like it’s pulled out all the others since 2000? That all the polls are wrong? That the public will be endorsing another two years of Republican leadership on Capitol Hill?

If so, then Wednesday morning, November 8, is going to be one of the most interesting days in recent American history, simply to see how George W. Bush will react. Oh to be a fly on the wall the moment he first looks in the mirror on that morning.

No matter how much the president has wrapped himself in a “State of Denial” – to use Bob Woodward’s latest title – there’s a finality to election results that’s inescapable. And that’s why I’m so interested in the president’s reaction: it may be a telling precursor to how he’ll react when the reality of the mess in Iraq finally hits him square in the eye.

If the Democrats do take over Congress, and the long-anticipated hearings and investigations into the administration’s dealings begin, the watchword of the final two years of the Bush presidency is likely to be “unraveling.”

That’s the sort of thing the president’s father was warning about in the comments his son so pointedly dismissed in the interview yesterday. The younger Mr. Bush sees none of it.

Not yet, anyway.