The Napping President

He is taking the entire month of August off! Well, who among us hasn’t needed 30 straight days off after working six whole months?
— Jay Leno, August 2001

I read somewhere that while George W. Bush was governor of Texas he was prone to leave his office in the early afternoon. He was not the most energetic governor and retains a well-known penchant for naps even when surrounded by troubling news.

If true that Texas story would jibe with other reports I’ve read. After graduating from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where his main academic achievement seems to have been heading the cheerleader squad, he received his Bachelor of Arts in History from Yale with a C average in 1968.

Bush enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard in May 1968, with a commitment to serve to May 1974. But there is no record of him performing any such service between May 1972 and October 1973. During that time he apparently refused to submit to a drug test, terminating his flier’s career. In September 1973, eight months before his service was supposed to end, he requested discharge in order to attend Harvard Business School.

Yoshi Tsurumi, one of Bush’s Harvard professors told CNN’s Phil Hirschkorn in 2004 that Bush as a graduate student was “Lazy. He didn’t come to my class prepared. He did very badly.” His performance may have been influenced by substance abuse; he was arrested for DUI in Maine near his family’s summer home in 1976 and had his license suspended.

After getting his Masters in Business Administration that year, Bush failed in several business ventures and in a bid for a House of Representatives seat in 1978. In 1994 his fortunes changed as advisors Karl Rove (“Bush’s Brain”) and Karen Hughes in a very sleazy campaign against the well-liked incumbent Democratic Governor Ann Richards engineered an upset. That allowed him to kick back with his cowboy boots on his desk and gleefully sign the execution orders of 152 death row prisoners (he was not much into pardons or commuting sentences then) while proclaiming June 10 “Jesus Day” in Texas.

As President of the United States, Dubya has accumulated more vacation credits than any of his recent predecessors. According to Dale McFeatters in a ScrippsNews editorial published last August, Bush “broke Ronald Reagan’s record of 335 days for America’s most vacationed president” on August 19, 2005, “and went on to take the longest presidential vacation in 36 years.” That was over 18% of Bush’s time since taking office (or about nine weeks in his average year) and there has been much vacation time since then for the wartime president. (For reference, the average vacation time in the U.S. is 12 days, Japan, 18; France, 25; Germany, 30.)

He says these breaks from the routine help him “clear his mind” and “get back in touch with real America.” The White House says “he’s earned it.”

It’s apparent to anyone watching a Bush news conference that he is intellectually uncurious, dogmatic, sometimes incoherent — in various ways mentally lazy. Recall how when asked who his favorite philosopher was he answered, rather like a Miss America pageant contestant caught off guard: “Jesus.” Or when asked in a press conference in April 2004 (one year into the Iraq War and on the eve of the Abu Ghraib torture revelations) if he could think of any mistakes he’d made, he responded: “I don’t want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t — you just put me under the spot here — and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.”

Recall how a top aide to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien called him a “moron” in 2002? How many U.S. presidents have ever been called morons by Canadian officials?

It’s been reported that Bush doesn’t read newspapers. When a sympathetic Washington Times journalist asked him why in 2004, he replied, “I like to have a clear outlook. It can be a frustrating experience to pay attention to somebody’s false opinion or somebody’s characterization which simply isn’t true.” I assume that Bush was taught in his Yale history classes that one should read widely to understand an issue and make some original contribution to resolving it. But here he implicitly insults critical thinking while expressing pure laidback solipsism. (Of course some among his largely anti-intellectual base will find such talk endearing, as they do his inevitable malapropisms — if they notice them. They nod their heads and think, “Yeah, why read those liberal newspapers when we have our free and balanced Fox News?”)

Intellectual activity can indeed be a frustrating experience because dealing with unclarity, contradictions, unresolved issues forces us to devote more mental time and effort to find legitimate answers. You can acquire a clear outlook by avoiding all that activity and just pointing to the Bible, the Flag, the Pledge of Allegiance (but not that “goddam piece of paper” as Bush has privately called the Constitution) and the papers Cheney puts on your desk as sources of your own true opinion. You can then clock out early mentally and head off to Crawford to clear brush and your outlook at the same time.

The people around Bush know his personality and abilities. We the masses see him on TV, sometimes strutting like a rooster, other times looking like a deer caught in the headlights, cocky or confused depending on the situation or question posed. But never real sharp. Some of those around Bush (Colin Powell in particular) are known to have winced at these public performances traditionally required of a president. Some might sit on the edges of their chairs genuinely fearing he will say something so bizarre it will send his poll numbers even under 20% or provoke some kind of upheaval — some comment revealing the cruelty, ignorance, hypocrisy, arrogance and basic sluggishness of the man.

I assume Cheney, the brighter and more sophisticated of the two Deciders, has accumulated his own unprecedented power as Vice President thinking that Dubya with his weaknesses requires the avuncular assistance that he, with his big oil, defense contractor and neocon ties, is best able to provide. It behooves him to encourage Bush to take his vacations (or choke on his pretzels) while he from his undisclosed location networks with these people who count. He’s even marched on CIA headquarters, sidekick Libby in toe, to browbeat the agents into saying what he wants said — for the president’s later attention.

(Think of that for a moment. Often top government officials fear the CIA because it has so much information about people. Not Cheney.)

Cheney has placed himself and his neocons’ version of reality on the indolent Commander-in-Chief’s desk, shaping the latter’s understanding of reality with the lazybones’ apparent approval. He wants a “clear outlook” and Cheney supplies that for sure.

Today Bush is in his Camp David retreat, surrounded by fresh air, tall oaks and pine trees, clearing his mind of all those frustrations that paying attention to other people’s false opinions and untrue characterizations can produce. I can’t find readily online who’s with him helping clarify that mind. Of course he might be in his own little world napping, slumbering like a baby while bombs fall on babies in Afghanistan and Iraq. And while Cheney and the neocons plot more bombing on Iran.

America needs to wake up from the bad dream of these two men. According to the results of an American Research Group poll announced yesterday, 54% of American adults want the US House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings against Cheney. 45% favor Bush’s impeachment, in a temporary statistical deadlock with the 46% still wiping the sleep from their eyes who oppose it. We need to force the politicians to get off their lazy asses and take action now.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Gary.