Kearns Goodwin: Bush Wouldn't Have Handled Shoe Incident So Well Two Years Ago

Short of going full Ninja hero and snatching the shoes in mid-air, it's hard to see how Pres. Bush could have been any cooler in his handling of the Hush Puppy Hurler. I figure W's feeling pretty good about things this morning.  But that didn't stop ABC and NBC from declaring the incident "embarrassing" for President Bush.  

For good measure, on Today, Doris Kearns Goodwin discounted Bush's blithe reaction, saying he wouldn't have been that cool a couple years ago, strangely intepreting his nonchalance as evidence of how anxious he is to leave office.  And not to leave CBS out of the mix, on the Early Show Richard Roth described the president as being "nonplussed" in reaction to the incident, when he was in fact just the opposite.Let's begin with Today. And speaking of beginning, at the very top of the show Tom Cruise turned up on the set.  He was there to promote his latest movie, but instead of waiting his turn to be interviewed, stood there next to Matt and Meredith during the opening tease.  Muttered Matt, who manifested clearly uncomfortable body language, "this is a little bizarre."  He and Cruise had an infamous run-in three years ago, things getting testy when Lauer questioned the actor about his belief in Scientology.  I've moved the segment to the end of the video clip, but it did come first.

But back to the shoes.  Lauer spoke with NBC reporter John Yang.

MATT LAUER: John, this had to be an embarrassing moment.

JOHN YANG: Embarrassing and a little odd, Matt.

Presidential historian Kearns Goodwin made her odd observation during a panel segment on the incident later in the half-hour.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: The one real parallel that comes to my mind, however, is Vice-President Nixon went to South America in the late 50s, and he was pelted by demonstrators, who actually spit in his face. A tobacco-wielding guy spit a wad of tobacco in his face. And they had signs: "Nixon, dog."  Somehow this dog makes it way over several continents. He stood his ground, and he came out looking a little more popular as a result of seeming courageous.

You might have thought Kearns Goodwin was about to say the same of Pres. Bush, that his courage under shoe fire would boost his popularity, but she managed to put the most negative possible gloss on matters.

KEARNS GOODWIN: Interestingly, I think Bush's relaxed, self-deprecating humor may show that he's anxious to leave the presidency.  He has more humor resurfacing now that it's at the end.  Cause you're not sure he would have done this two years ago, to have been relaxed about it as he was.

Over at Good Morning America, correspondent Martha Raddatz also used the e-word.

MARTHA RADDATZ: The President got cheers from US forces at Bagram Air Base [in Afghanistan], a welcome change from the embarrassing incident in Iraq.

View Raddatz video here, which includes a brief interview she had with the President in which he seemed anything but embarrassed.

Finally, over at the Early Show, reporter Richard Roth had this to say:

RICHARD ROTH: Mr. Bush's message of progress was eclipsed in Baghdad by a sign of his unpopularity: the angry near-miss of an Iraqi reporter shouting "this is your farewell kiss, you dog" as he threw his shoes at the president.  "Size 10," said Mr. Bush, who was unhurt and nonplussed.

View video here.

Roth clearly meant to indicate that Pres. Bush was unfazed by the incident.  But he fell into the too common mistake of using nonplussed, which means surprised and confused, to mean precisely its opposite.

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.