Thursday, February 6
Bush Watch: Headlines
Bush Watch, 2.9. 2001

How Bush's Language Problems and Short Attention Span Would Affect Us
A reporter recently used Texas public information laws to obtain 900 pages of George W. Bush's governor's schedules and correspondence and discovered "a governor who works short hours and spends little time studying specific issues or working on executive matters. The schedules show that Mr. Bush typically had his first office meeting about 9 a.m., took two hours of "private time" at lunch for a run, and then wrapped up his last meeting by about 5 p.m. A large portion of the officially scheduled meetings were "photo opportunities," interviews with reporters, or meetings with school groups or other ceremonial occasions. Relatively little of the day was devoted to hard-core examination of the issues." NYT reporter Nicholas D. Kristof goes on to note that the schedules were taken from one of Bush's busiest periods as governor, 1997, a year in which the Texas Legislature met.

Since Bush has often told the nation to look at his Texas record to determine what kind of president he would be, one wonders how he would function under the extreme pressures and very long days common to the presidency. Bush is unwilling to put a label on his language and attention problems, which appear to be the reason for his short days in the governor's office. However, his friends and business acquaintances have commented on these problems.

Doug Hannah, a friend since childhood, has found that the attention problem runs in the family: "They have an attention span of about an hour." When he and George were boys, he remembers, "Mr. Bush would pick us up to take us to the movies and leave after an hour and 20 minutes.... At ball games George would sometimes want to leave in the fifth inning." "Even today," writes Gail Sheehy in the October Vanity Fair, "nothing engages Bush's attention for more than an hour, an hour max—more like 10 or 15 minutes. His workday as governor of Texas is "two hard half-days," as his chief of staff, Clay Johnson, describes it. He puts in the hours from 8 to 11:30 A.M., breaking it up with a series of 15-minute meetings, sometimes 10-minute meetings, but rarely is there a 30-minute meeting, says Johnson. At 11:30 he's "outtahere." He tries everything possible to have at least two hours of what he calls private time in the middle of the day to go over to the University of Texas track or run a hard three to five miles on a concrete path at a pace of 7.5 minutes a mile, then relax and return to the office at 1:30, where he'll play some video golf or computer solitaire until about three, and then it's back to the second "hard half-day" until 5:30."

It's not just that Bush begins to lose focus earlier than most administrators in high pressure jobs, but his language breaks down and he sometimes becomes incomprehensible. When reporters began writing about his language difficulties after the New Hampshire primaries, excuses were made by both Bush spinners and sympathetic reporters that he only made his language gaffes late in the day. Then it was late in the day and early in the morning. After that it was late in the day, early in the morning, and when under pressure. Then Bush began to schmooze with reporters on his plane and we were given stories that he didn't sleep well on the road and missed the comfort of his Austin bed. All of these explanations are true, but they don't really get to the heart of the matter. Bush appears to be incapable of working long, hard, pressure-filled days, the kind of days common to the presidency, without suffering a loss of attention and an inability to clearly communicate. Can we afford a president who works a six hour day and devotes little of those hours to "studying specific issues or working on executive matters"? Bush may want to do more, but his language and attention problems appear to prevent him from doing more. --Politex, 10/17/00

"George W. doesn't seem to be getting his usual ample hours of sleep. Though not doing much of substance, he has to be awake much longer than he is used to, and his few unscripted remarks have been often testy." --Chicago Sun Times, 2/6/01.

"As the presidential campaign began early in 1999, Bush opted to stay home in Texas until later in the year. As a candidate, much was written about his fondness for days off, light schedules and a traveling pillow. So what's Bush doing as president? "I'll answer some questions and I'm gonna head home and take a nap." That's what Bush said Sunday before addressing a retreat for Democratic House members in western Pennsylvania. The remark confirmed a common stereotype about Bush, particularly in comparison to his peripatetic predecessor. Compared to the omnipresent Clinton, Bush prefers the serenity within the White House walls. Since his inauguration, he has had five events fully open to the press. Clinton often held three or four in a week. Bush's staff has demurred on the question of a news conference. Where Clinton was effusive, Bush is contained. A weary Clinton spent six hours shaking hands with hordes of visitors, some uninvited, at a White House open house after his inauguration. Bush appeared only briefly at his open house with a carefully selected group of visitors. --WP, 2/9/01
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