They had hoped more members of Congress would embrace the advice that Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) gave the president during one session in the Cabinet Room. "Mr. President, I have two words for you," Lieberman said, according to officials who were present. "'Be bold.'"It has such a ring of untruth that it must be true. It's so absurd that it must have really happened. The Junior Senator from Connecticut arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania and waved a chummy hello to the guards at the gate. His car dropped him at the West Wing entrance. He received his visitor's badge and tarried in the waiting room. He passed pleasantries to this or that familiar White House staffer. He stared at the ceiling. He contemplated his lunch. He was ushered into the Cabinet Room. He shook hands with the President. The President had been arrayed for maximum thoughtfulness. His staff has spread the accoutrements of a contemplative morning like a half-eaten continental breakfast. Here an open file folder. There a marked-up map. A Blackberry chirping with unread messages. A tablet: half-annotated, half-doodled. "Well, Joe . . . ?" He trails into the question. He has an air of dissipation.
That advice, at least, Bush would take to heart.
"Mr. President," Joe draws himself to his full heioght of four feet, eleven inches. His high collar tugs at his low jowls. "Mr. President, I have two words for you." He pauses, counts. Wouldn't want an unaccounted article or preposition to ruin the symmetry of thge staff-prepared quotation: "'Be. Bold.'"
To those of us living outside the Narnian borders of the Beltway, it's difficult to conceive that this is how people actually talk. It's hard to accept that this verbal commedia dell'arte of fixed and repetetive gesture isn't just played to us, the audience. The actors communicate with each other through the same hollow rhetoric once intended only for public consumption. Will and resolve aren't just paired bywords for the talk circuit. To the governing class, they have real-world antecedents as concrete as profit and loss, though infinitely less identifiable. Moving forward, taking back the country, finding a new path. They talk about these things like you talk to your accountants about revenues, like I talk to my contractors about shut-off valves and steam-pipe fittings. "This isn't about proceduralism, it's about keeping our promises," the Speaker of the House said this weekend, as if there resided in the phrase "keeping our promises" some particular ontological truth.
While it's easy enough to think and speak of the disaster in Iraq as the triumph of grand plans and hypotheses over physical and cultural reality, it's probably an overestimation. Seventy-five people died in a marketplace bombing. How bold is that?