For much of George W. Bush‘s first term as President, there was a running debate between his detractors: Stupid or Evil? Winning a second term seems to have doused such talk, but in any event, it is hard to imagine Bush actually leading anything more than a prayer. Of all the unanswered questions that resulted from the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the most disturbing is ‘Who was in charge?’ With the President busy reading to children and later shuffling between bunkers in Louisiana and Nebraska, it was Vice President Dick Cheney (alongside his wife Lynne) giving orders in the White House Situation Room including the authorization to shoot down passenger planes thought to be under the control of hijackers. Timelines suggest that during the confusion, it was the Vice President who was really in charge.
Now, of course a case could be made that we might all be better off with Cheney calling the shots in situations that happen faster than speechwriters could put words in the President’s mouth, but the Constitution simply doesn’t provide for that option. We’ll never know exactly how many times that sacred document has been set aside in the name of expediency, but it’s clear it has happened at least once this week:
When the state of red alert was declared yesterday, the vice president was evacuated from the White House and the first lady was whisked to a secure location. But no precautions were needed for President Bush.
He was out at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Beltsville, riding his bicycle — at noon on a Wednesday — blissfully unaware. “The decision was made to inform the president upon conclusion of his bike ride,” Bush press secretary Scott McClellan said later.
There was a “red alert” but someone made a decision to wait for recess to be over before telling the President. Given multiple opportunities to clarify, McClellan fell back on talking points stressing “protocol”, repeating the word thirty-six times in less than two hours. It seems unimportant that protocol was followed when that protocol removes the President from the decision-making process.
Aside from bike-riding, what other activities take precedence over possible terrorist attacks? Extended brush-clearing vacations in Crawford, TX? The semi-monthly coupling ritual? Childish displays of petulance in front of foreign heads-of-state?
We don’t have a leader, we have a figurehead. This man was chosen by his party for his ability to remember strategic phrases written by men much smarter than he. It’s one thing to have a CEO President, it’s something else entirely to have a man who delegates critical decision-making because he can’t be bothered to interrupt his workout.