So, when U.S. News cited “a top insider” describing
how Bush likes to fart in the presence of junior White House staffers as
a joke on them, the item was given the boys-will-be-boys title: “Animal
House in the West Wing.”
According to U.S. News, Bush was just “a funny,
earthy guy who, for example, can’t get enough of fart jokes. He’s also
known to cut a few for laughs, especially when greeting new young
aides.” Bush was described, too, as someone who “loves to cuss [and]
gets a jolly when a mountain biker wipes out trying to keep up with
News, Aug. 20, 2006]
But Bush’s behavior could be viewed in a less
sympathetic light. Given his famous thin skin whenever he feels
slighted, his eagerness to demean others could be interpreted as a sign
of his dynastic authority, a modern-day droit du seigneur in
which he can humiliate others but they can’t return the favor.
Indeed, this tendency to assert his superior
position over others by subjecting them to degrading treatment has been
a recurring part of Bush’s persona dating back at least to his days as
an “enforcer” on his father’s presidential campaigns.
In 1986, for instance, Bush spotted Wall Street Journal political
writer Al Hunt and his wife Judy Woodruff having dinner at a Dallas
restaurant with their four-year-old son. Bush was steaming over Hunt’s
prediction that Jack Kemp – not then-Vice President George H.W. Bush –
would win the Republican presidential nomination in 1988.
Bush stormed up to the table and cursed
Hunt out. “You fucking son of a bitch,” Bush yelled. “I saw what you
wrote. We’re not going to forget this.”
Later in the campaign, when Newsweek ran a
cover story with the image of George H.W. Bush on a boat with the
headline, “Fighting the Wimp Factor,” a furious George W. Bush enforced
a year-long punishment of Newsweek by barring the magazine’s reporters
from access to key campaign insiders.
‘Don’t Kill Me’
Sometimes Bush’s sense of entitlement had
an even nastier edge.
As Texas governor, Bush would mock people
on Death Row. In a famous interview with conservative pundit Tucker
Carlson, Bush imitated condemned murderess Carla Faye Tucker’s
unsuccessful plea for clemency. “Please don’t kill me,” Bush whimpered
through pursed lips, mimicking the woman he had put to death.
In another example of
Bush’s put-down humor, the Texas governor lined up with a group of men
for a photo and fingered the man next to him. “He’s the ugly one!” Bush
laughed, before realizing that the incident was being observed by a
reporter. [NYT, Aug. 22, 1999]
Other times, Bush showed how prickly he can be when
facing criticism. During a campaign stop in Naperville, Ill., Bush
groused to his running mate, Dick Cheney, about what Bush considered
negative coverage from New York Times reporter
“There’s Adam Clymer –
major league asshole – from the New York Times,” Bush said as he was
waving to a campaign crowd from a stage in Naperville, Ill.
“Yeah, big time,”
responded Cheney. Their voices were picked up on an open microphone.
During a presidential
debate in 2000, Bush was back to making light of Texas executions. While
arguing against the need for hate-crimes laws, Bush said the three men
convicted of the racially motivated murder of James Byrd were already
facing the death penalty.
“It’s going to be hard to
punish them any worse after they’re put to death,” Bush said, with an
out-of-place smile across his face. Beyond the inaccuracy of his
statement – one of the three killers had received life imprisonment –
there was that smirk again when discussing people on Death Row.
Bush’s demeaning humor
carried over into his presidency as he enjoyed razzing people about
their looks, often in public when they could do nothing but blush and
look down at their feet.
At a press conference at
his Crawford ranch on Aug. 24, 2001, Bush called on a Texas reporter who
had covered Bush as governor. Bush said the young reporter was “a fine
lad, fine lad,” drawing laughter from the national press corps.
The Texas reporter then
began to ask his question, “You talked about the need to maintain
technological …” But Bush interrupted the reporter to deliver his punch
“A little short on hair,
but a fine lad. Yeah.”
As Bush joined in the
snickering, the young reporter paused and acknowledged meekly, “I am
losing some hair.”
Bush’s joy in mocking
bald men didn’t stop with reporters.
At a joint White House press conference May 16,
2006, with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Bush slipped in a
couple of zingers about Howard’s bald head and supposed homeliness.
Bush joshed, “Somebody said, ‘You and John Howard
appear to be so close, don’t you have any differences?’ And I said,
‘yes, he doesn’t have any hair.’”
Getting a round of laughs from reporters, Bush
moved on to his next joke: “That’s what I like about John Howard,” Bush
said. “He may not be the prettiest person on the block, but when he
tells you something you can take it to the bank.”
Howard played the role of gracious guest, smiling
and saying nothing in response to the unflattering comments about his
Besides publicly embarrassing people about their
looks – while they are in no position to return the favor – Bush also
demonstrates his power by invading personal space, cupping his hand
behind a man’s neck or – in the case of German Chancellor Angela Merkel
– giving her an unwelcome neck rub at the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg,
In a generally flattering
portrait of Bush in the 2003 book, The Right Man, former Bush
speechwriter David Frum acknowledged that Bush often used sarcasm
to dress down his subordinates as well as his political opponents.
Bush is “impatient and
quick to anger; sometimes glib, even dogmatic; often uncurious and as a
result ill informed,” Frum wrote. When referring to environmentalists,
Bush would call them “green-green lima beans,” according to Frum.
Other times, Bush’s harsh humor
has complicated U.S. foreign policy, including
the tense relations with North Korea. During a lectern-pounding tirade
before Republican leaders in May 2002, Bush insulted North Korea’s
diminutive dictator Kim Jong Il by calling him a “pygmy,” Newsweek
reported. The slur quickly circulated around the globe.
While many Bush backers
find his acid tongue and biting humor refreshing – the sign of a
“politically incorrect” politician – some critics contend that Bush’s
casual insults fit with a dynastic sense of entitlement toward the
presidency and toward those he rules.
The Bushes show no modesty about their
extraordinary political dynasty. At family events, George H.W. Bush and
George W. Bush wear matching caps and wind-breakers emblazoned with the
numbers 41 and 43, identifying their presidencies.
George W. Bush also relished the fawning news
coverage that followed the 9/11 attacks, complete with suggestions from
the likes of NBC’s Tim Russert that Bush’s selection as President might
have been divinely inspired.
In a round-table
discussion on Dec. 23, 2001, Russert joined New York Mayor Rudy
Giuliani, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and First Lady Laura Bush in
ruminating about whether divine intervention had put Bush in the White
House to handle the crisis.
Russert asked Mrs. Bush
if “in an extraordinary way, this is why he was elected.” Mrs. Bush
disagreed with Russert’s suggestion that “God picks the President, which
This hagiographic treatment of Bush might have been
intended to boost his confidence in the face of a national crisis. But
the flattery instead seems to have fed an egotism that devoured any
The swelling of Bush’s head was apparent in his
interview for Bob Woodward’s Bush at War,
.which took a largely flattering
look at Bush’s “gut” decision-making but reported some disturbing
attitudes within the White House.
“I am the commander,
see,” Bush told Woodward. “I do not need to explain why I say things.
That’s the interesting thing about being the President. Maybe somebody
needs to explain to me why they need to say something, but I don’t
feel like I owe anybody an explanation.”
So, Bush had come to see himself as beyond
accountability, much as ancient royalty viewed their own powers as
unlimited under the divine right of kings. In the traditional droit
du seigneur, a nobleman had the right to deflower the bride of a
male subject on their first night of marriage.
Now we’re told
that George W. Bush has another way of demonstrating his supremacy over
subordinates: when new White House aides are brought in to be introduced
to the President of the United States, the President farts.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine,
the Press & 'Project Truth.'