Leader Blues

Thursday, July 27, 2006

EDITORIALS >> Unsound bites

Presidents like to go abroad when they are in trouble at home. Basking in the adulation of native throngs and hobnobbing with heads of foreign states are always good for poll ratings. But the world-leader mode has not worked for President Bush, who always returns from foreign junkets with his dignity barely intact.

He doesn’t get to ride in parades or address the crowds like Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter did because it is risky.

Last week’s sojourn in St. Petersburg, Russia, for the summit of G-8 heads of state was a new low even for Bush. Everything turned sour. When he tried to show toughness by telling Vladimir Putin that he should try to have the kind of democratic change that the United States brought about in Iraq, Putin smirked and said no Russian wanted any part of the kind of democracy the world sees in Iraq. Bush was reported to have reddened and smiled weakly.

Then there was the sudden back massage that he tried to give a perceptibly shocked German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Finally, someone left a microphone open at the final luncheon — could Putin have arranged that? — and the media caught Bush munching and mumbling mindless remarks to people around him, including an uneasy Tony Blair, the British prime minister and close U.S. ally.

He seemed shocked to learn that the Chinese premier on one side of him had so far to travel to get home to Beijing.
He finally acknowledged that Russia and China both must be big countries.

But the worst turn of events was his remark to Blair that the solution to the fighting in Lebanon and Israel was for “Hezbollah to stop doing this s***.”

By now, there can be few religious followers who do not know that, like Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, the president, though a very pious man, has a potty mouth and is fond of obscene gestures and stories, but reminders that he exercises those predilections on the world stage are not soothing for his base.

It was helpful that none of the networks and few of the print media carried the actual word. But a few did, most prominently National Public Radio, which carried the audio unedited. But now NPR faces the risk of being fined $350,000 for airing proscribed profanities. We would guess that the Federal Communications Commission will let this one slide.