“Leadership,” George W. Bush Style

January 29, 2009

I thought this New York Times story by Sheryl Gay Stolberg contained some rather interesting insights into the regime that has just passed from our midst (though its impact will be felt for some time, I’m sure). Stolberg sets out to contrast the ways Barack Obama runs his administration versus the way Incurious George “ran” his…

WASHINGTON — The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat.

“He’s from Hawaii, O.K.?” said Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, who occupies the small but strategically located office next door to his boss. “He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there.”

Thus did an ironclad rule of the George W. Bush administration — coat and tie in the Oval Office at all times — fall by the wayside, only the first of many signs that a more informal culture is growing up in the White House under new management. Mr. Obama promised to bring change to Washington and he has — not just in substance, but in presidential style.

The story also tells us how the president “reads several papers” at breakfast with his family (and my guess is that when stories start appearing about what books Obama reads, the accounts won’t be fake, unlike that of you-know-who; see the Brendan Gill note from here) before his daughters go to school and he makes the “30-second” commute to work (cute).

And get a load of this stunt that “43” pulled, by the way…

Under Mr. Bush, punctuality was a virtue. Meetings started early — the former president once locked Secretary of State Colin L. Powell out of the Cabinet Room when Mr. Powell showed up a few minutes late — and ended on time. In the Obama White House, meetings start on time and often finish late.

I’m trying to picture Colin Powell (who, I would guess, prepared everything to the “nth” degree prior to submitting it for review to the “civilians in charge”) having to run to prop a door open while Dubya closes it because Powell was a few seconds late – thank God the grownups are in charge again!

Also, Stolberg tells us that Obama “engage(ed) (Congressional leaders) in the details of the (stimulus) legislation far more than was customary for Mr. Bush” (yes, I know Obama served in Congress and Dubya didn’t, so Obama would have an edge there; actually, it would make it more important for Dubya to press for details then, which I can imagine rarely if ever happened).


If Mr. Obama’s clock is looser than Mr. Bush’s, so too are his sartorial standards. Over the weekend, Mr. Obama’s first in office, his aides did not quite know how to dress. Some showed up in the West Wing in jeans (another no-no under Mr. Bush), some in coats and ties.

So the president issued an informal edict for “business casual” on weekends — and set his own example. He showed up Saturday for a briefing with his chief economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, dressed in slacks and a gray sweater over a white buttoned-down shirt. Workers from the Bush White House are shocked.

“I’ll never forget going to work on a Saturday morning, getting called down to the Oval Office because there was something he was mad about,” said Dan Bartlett, who was counselor to Mr. Bush. “I had on khakis and a buttoned-down shirt, and I had to stand by the door and get chewed out for about 15 minutes. He wouldn’t even let me cross the threshold.”

Getting “chewed out” for 15 minutes over dress code – to me, that speaks volumes as to what a truly petty individual Dubya is (to say nothing of clueless, of course).


Mr. Obama has also brought a more relaxed sensibility to his public appearances. David Gergen, an adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents, said Mr. Obama seemed to exude an “Aloha Zen,” a kind of comfortable calm that, Mr. Gergen said, reflects a man who “seems easy going, not so full of himself.”

What an exquisitely subtle dig by Gergen – continuing….

Like Mr. Bush and other presidents before him, Mr. Obama typically begins his work day with a top-secret intelligence briefing on security threats against the United States. Mr. Bush received the “president’s daily brief” Monday through Saturday; Mr. Obama gets the briefing on Sunday as well.

But sometimes Mr. Obama’s economic briefing, a new addition to the presidential schedule, comes first. Its attendees vary depending on the day, aides said. On Tuesday, the newly sworn-in Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, joined Mr. Summers to talk about financial and credit markets. On Wednesday, Paul A. Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve and informal Obama adviser, was on hand to discuss regulatory reform.

Among other things, that makes me wonder if former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson even bothered trying to explain the collapse of our markets to our reality-challenged Commander in Chief; that quote from Dubya about “Wall Street getting drunk,” a subject near and dear to him I’m sure, makes me tend to believe that Paulson realized in short order that it wasn’t worth the effort.

I have to admit, though, that the part at the end of the story about the “sunburst” rug that Laura designed for the Oval Office was a little surprising, if only because Dubya would have been more honest to have the rug display a printed copy of the U.S. Constitution instead; his figurative trampling of it is widely known by now, so he might as well have literally done the same thing.

  • Top Posts & Pages