WaPo: Dubya Now Lives In 'Insular World,' Squarely Among the '33 Percent' Who Like Him

April 11th, 2009 9:35 AM

George W. Bush has taken up a quiet post-presidential life. Like his father, he has sworn off any public denunciation of his Democratic successor. The Washington Post has an odd way of showing appreciation for Bush’s humble exit: mocking him on Saturday’s front page about his return to Texas: "In Insular World, the Negative Is Left Behind."

Sound like corporate synergy with Newsweek from a few years ago? The reporter is none other than serial Obama-flatterer Eli Saslow. No one at the Post seemed to debate this story idea: did Bill Clinton start having Bob Barr and the other impeachment managers over for hot dogs and Ruffles after he left office, or was he surrounded by friends and supporters? As Saslow recounts Bush talking to neighbors about his presidential memories, there are hints of delusion:

The presidency that is remembered on Daria Place bears little resemblance to the one that most of the country continues to blame for its problems. Bush left Washington on Jan. 20 with two-thirds of Americans disapproving of his job performance -- one of the worst ratings ever for an outgoing U.S. president. In his return to private life, he has maintained tranquility by adhering to a basic philosophy:

He lives squarely in the remaining 33 percent.

Bush works with a dozen aides from his administration, socializes with friends he has known for decades and lives in a conservative neighborhood that voted for him -- both times -- by a ratio greater than 2 to 1.

When Bill Clinton moved into the house in Chappaqua, New York, did the Post decribe his life as "insular" or suggest his security detail puts him in too severe a bubble? Did they do a breakdown of how Chappaqua voted? Saslow’s story implies that Bush needs to get out more, and get yelled at, or allow people to throw shoes at him:

His security is maintained by a daily routine that, intentionally or not, barricades him from the disapproving two-thirds of the nation. The 43rd president spends most weekends with his wife at their isolated ranch in Crawford, Tex., where he likes to wake up early, roam the 1,600 acres with a chainsaw and cut new bike trails. Most of his weekdays are spent 95 miles north, in Preston Hollow, an upper-class section of Dallas where he lived for seven years before becoming governor of Texas in 1995. He has declined to give interviews, except to discuss baseball or his book, and neighbors remain silent so as not to violate his privacy.

About once each week, Bush travels to give a speech or raise money for his $300 million presidential center, but he always moves inside an insulated bubble. On a trip to Calgary, Alberta, last month, he flew into town on a private jet and ate in a private room at a restaurant with three friends and the Secret Service. Eighty police officers provided extra security and closed streets for his motorcade so that he could cruise through downtown to a luncheon where 1,500 guests had paid $400 to hear him talk about "eight momentous years in the Oval Office," according to the invitation. The 250 protesters who waited to catch a glimpse of Bush instead settled for hurling their shoes at his picture.

At this rough time in Clinton’s post-presidency, the media weren’t too soft, since the Marc Rich pardons and controversies over the Clintons’ improper takings of gifts and furniture were still in the news.

The closest equivalent to Saturday’s story that I could find by searching Nexis for "Bill Clinton" and "Chappaqua" was this February 25, 2001 piece by Michael Powell, which does suggest (on page A-6) that he’s surrounded by the warmth of supporters, but his popularity is underlined and Clinton critics are the ones who are having trouble with reality:

He's pardoned the unpardonable. Besmirched his legacy. Longtime allies distance themselves: The money offers dry up.

Such is the conventional Washington take, which often seems to bear little relationship to Bill Clinton’s daily life.

The former president strolls through Harlem to electric shouts and high-fives. A few days later he is in New Orleans, getting $100,000 and a standing ovation for a speech to Oracle Corp. On Tuesday, he is in New York at a Credit Suisse/Variety Magazine conference for his next six-figure talk.

"The man's brilliant; his Harlem move was so great," said Dan Klores, a New York public relations man."Bill Clinton is going to have trouble making money? Please."

This "conventional Washington take" is a complete straw man. How many "conventional" thinkers in 2001 would have suggested that an ex-president wouldn’t have lucrative offers on the table for speeches and books? 

(The story was headlined "Clinton's Gaffes Haven't Harmed His Bankability; Speaking Engagements Sell Out; Book Talks Underway.")

Powell is the same Post reporter/admirer who in one unforgettable 1999 article compared Bill Clinton at a press conference to a fine automobile: "It’s not unlike watching a BMW, fully loaded, the sunroof back, the heated seats, the Blaupunkt speakers blasting. No curves, no spin, a 180-kilometer-an-hour purity of performance." No spin? In this story, Powell was just getting started:

Clinton Inc., the financial and social affairs of the former president, has been shaken but -- barring further revelations -- appears in little long-term danger. His book deal is a when, not an if. Publishing insiders place his advance at slightly less than his wife's $ 8 million, although what sources term a "Full Monty" disclosure of presidential vice and virtue could hike his ante.

"There are tens of millions of Americans who happily voted for him twice, and Clinton has a take on his presidency that only he can supply," says Stuart Applebaum of Random House. "It's a very Beltway point of view to assume that the recent controversies diminish his appeal as an author."

Clinton is no less awash in speaking offers, says Don Walker, proprietor of the Harry Walker Agency. Although Walker says he thinks it is unseemly to discuss clients with the media, he makes an exception for Clinton, because the cognitive dissonance bothers him.

"There is this dual reality. At night I watch the talking head TV shows and it sounds as though it's all falling apart," Walker says. "Then I go to my office and I've never seen anything close to this in 29 years. By the time I vet the offers... they are piling up like airplanes over LaGuardia on a foggy day."

It is fun to read about how Clinton got lucrative offers from Red China: "Clinton is quite popular in China, where the Monica Lewinsky scandal played as first-rate soap opera. Most Chinese took Clinton's affair as evidence of his good health."

Critics surfaced at the article’s conclusion – snooty liberal New York critics, and they’re quickly rebutted, as if they were the insular ones:

The New York Observer, a weekly newspaper catering to the city's prominent, wrote off the Clintons as fumbling arrivistes. "The Clintons should understand . . . this town has never wanted for celebrities whose reach exceeds their grasp," an Observer editorial warned.

But that, say Clinton's admirers, does not take into account his resilience and visceral feel for celebrity culture.

Already aides limn his path back to prominence. The move to Harlem helped, they say. He'll give speeches, walk the city, and raise copious sums for charity.

"Who doesn't want a former president?" said Barbara Fife, a fixture in New York's political and fundraising circles for three decades. "He's young, he's vibrant, he’s Bill Clinton. Let’s not pretend he’ll be a social outcast."