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September 30, 2005

Your Turn: Man of the Season — Revisited

1. Gonewrongbushtecover350  2.  Bushtelonghot350

3. Mercibushcover350   4. Novuniteusbushtecover350

(1.) This week. ( 2.) June ‘05 ( 3.) February ‘05  (4.) January ‘05 (re-election)

(click for larger views)

Who said politics has a short memory?

If you’ve put in a season or two with the BAG, you know that I’ve admired the cover work at The Economist.  I even had a ritual for a while of posting the TE cover as it became available Thursday night, and letting you have at it on Friday.

I can’t say which post I’ve done over the past couple years that has spawned the most discussion. Though I’m pretty sure the analysis stimulated by the "Long Hot Summer" issue this past June drew one of the largest and most interesting sets of responses.  On that cover, with its strange and ambiguous background, TE was anticipating Bush might be in for a tough summer. At the time, the rationale had mostly to do with Iraq (which was seemingly suggested by the desert-like background.)  Well, little did they know!

Since The Economist has made a point of tracking Bush at
regular intervals, I thought I would group the two most recent Bush
covers together with the two Bush covers that followed the re-election
to see how they read collectively. (As a quick refresher, the "Merci"
issue covered Bush’s inauguration speech and also peviewed his imminent
departure for Europe. If you recall, Bush’s speech proclaimed an
all-encompassing doctrine to spread liberty and democracy throughout
the world. The trip, itself, was intended to explain that doctrine, but
was also designed to usher in a more collaborative approach toward the
allies.); The top two covers, of course, bookend the summer, with the
cover at the top left post fronting this week’s issue.

Now, it would be an understatement to say that antipathy toward
Bush runs high around these parts. In spite of the spite, however, I
believe the political conversation has remained incisive, with an
impressive depth of visual analysis. So, reading the covers, how do you
see what we have now, what we had before, and what’s expressed in

(I’ll be joining you in the discussion.)

(images: The Economist Magazine. Front Covers: 10/1/05; 6/25/05; 2/26/05; 1/15/2005. Photo credits unavailable.)

  • mugatea

    TE has dissappointed me in their softness for the boy king. They just seem to trust him through whatever kookoo banana policies he puts forward. That’s just strange considering the incredibly negative impact the boy king has had on the world and it’s economy.
    What’s wrong with America’s right? I can’t wait to read TE’s view on the subject … but I woke up to this quote in the WP this morning …
    “if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose — you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.” William Bennett, former US education secretary, said this on Wednesday of this week during his right-wing conservative talk radio show.
    Again, TE is way too soft on Shrub and his minions.
    Although, it’s nice to see them use a shot of Shrub looking down, finally.

  • eva

    I notice the cover title does not pose a question, but makes a statement. Also, the statement does not say what’s gone wrong WITH American’s right, but FOR it. In other words, the story is not blaming America’s right, but the man just to the right of the cover title. I’m struck also by the tightly pursed lips in the first photo and the last, two very different moods.

  • dennis

    Examining Bush’s sightline through the four covers illustrates the ups and downs of his second term.

  • Marley

    The earliest photo showing the slightly crossed eyes and the big smile – no teeth…he looks like Sylvester the cat right after swallowing Tweety Bird. The naughty little boy, but yet he gets away with it.
    He looks bewildered and nervous getting on the plane. Perhaps those crafty Europeans worry him.
    He’s got the infamous tough guy pose in picture three. This is what so many of our fellow Americans have bought hook, line and sinker. The arms hanging loose but slightly away from the body, as if bush is somewhat muscle bound around the back and shoulders. A manly man. One shoulder dipping down just a smidge, one hip jutting up just a bit. The upper body leaning forward a little. The “What the fuck do you want now?” expression. Oh yes, he had it all down pat. Perfected. It fooled tens of millions of people for a long time.
    But we see in the last picture that he is way over his head. He looks ready to blow a gasket. Put your own mouth in that position and feel the tension. He doesn’t look so tough now. But I’m sure he will invoke pity from the people who formerly bought into his tough guy act.

  • Annoying Old Guy

    I don’t read tension in the last picture at all. That’s precisely the smile I get when I tell one of my boys “smile for the camera!” when they’re busy doing something else.

  • BEG

    So the more recent photos at top, to the oldest ones at bottom. What I notice is how his gaze is more distant in each one. First(bottom one), he’s looking at you, the pic is closeup. Then the next, he’s further off, waving (conciliatory?) and looking a little more to the side. The third from the bottom, he’s got his tough guy look, yes, but he’s off center, and looking off center. Last one, he’s not looking at you at all. I also find the clothing choices interesting. You can’t tell what he’s wearing in the first one, of course, but look how distant he is all buttoned up in that great coat. Then there’s the informal, good boy clothing again in the third, and now in the last he’s all buttoned up.
    I must say in the first (bottom) picture, I hardly even recognize Bush. It seems like most of the time he’s sour faced or sneering or something. This is very different, and I’m not sure why, but as I said, doesn’t even look like him.

  • Mathieu

    There’s been a rash of pictures of him looking bored, anxious, hostile lately, as well as insider, ‘junior aide’ stories about his personality and behaviour in private.
    I’m sure photographers caught such expressions before, and I hardly think the stories about his personality were not doing the rounds long before Katrina, so it’s interesting to note how all the sudden, the subject is fair game.
    What has he done, exactly, to suddenly open up that part of the discourse, and what was it, exactly, that kept it taboo before?
    Were the media staying their hand out of respect for the man or the office? If so, what has happened to suspend that respect?
    Are they just following the approval ratings?

  • Martin

    I don’t think that TE follows Bush no matter what. I think they’re glad that his party is in power for fiscal reasons but they can’t stand him personally but are too cagey to say so out loud. Point is, they’re conflicted. They also represent the main pro-America voice in a continent where the anti-America voices are plenty loud enough, so I think they take on the responsibility of representing EVEN BUSH as something that can be defended — note that this does not equal defending him with relish. It’s just their lot. I think they cloak a lot of dislike into what seems to be Bush-sympathetic coverage.

  • Marley

    Annoying Old Guy, just to clarify – I’m reading the pictures bottom to top (oldest to newest). I agree there’s no tension in the close up of bush smiling.

  • King of Pants

    The thing I keep noticing? That stupid “cowboy” belt. Even under a grey suit. Always projecting that “even though I’m forced to wear a suit, I’m still one of y’all!” aura.
    The earliest cover: Holy crap, what a phenomenal dipstick. It’s a challenge to someone they didn’t even endorse. It’s caustic.
    Next: “Can’t wait to get outta here, shit, gotta throw a wave for the cameras.”
    Then: “Hunker down for some hard work. See, it’s hard work. Here. In Crawford. In the summer.”
    Finally: Just peevish. Just…so full of something that has to come out.

  • Neil

    Top pic: looks like a pitcher who just gave up 5 runs in one inning, headed for the dugout.
    Second pic: Funniest pic. Looks like a desolated nuclear wasteland behind him, all is lost, and he’s saying “yeah i don’t care, i f’d up, whatchu gonna do about it now?” Reminiscent of an older front page (NY Post circa 2003?) of the same pose with the overly generous headline “Cool Hand Bush.”
    Third from top: the Fifth Beatle circa 1965 greeting throngs of fans? Or effeminate queen, matronly dress? Now I’m just being nasty.

  • Jeff

    “Examining Bush’s sightline through the four covers illustrates the ups and downs of his second term.”
    What ups?

  • MonsieurGonzo

    eva: “notice the cover title does not pose a question, but makes a statement
    imho this is an important point. used to be that local TV news would posez some question like, “will it rain or shine tomorrow? tune in at ten and we’ll give you the latest…”
    …and then this evolved into MSM news headlines ~ phrased as questions and from this we could expect, rather than NEWS, some kind of FAIR AND BALANCED construct; ie., some outrageous CLAIM or outright LIE (usually, but not always by the right) -versus- reality or logic, etc.
    the apparent point of doing this is: a question, regardless how absurd, implies a premise (a FRAME or “Talking Point”) that: (A) one cannot be held accountable for asking; (B) is a form of passive aggression; and, (C) is, imho a sneaky and sometimes snarky form of smearing some one/thing or, propagating mis-information in the receiver’s mind.
    martin: “[TE are] glad that his party is in power for fiscal reasons…
    …given U.S. current account and budget dificits, i cannot imagine ANY fiscal conservative person or publication glad this tax-cut & spend Bush administration is in power {grin}
    BWDIK? ^_^

  • lytom

    Economist’s last picture has minor imperfection, the entire bush’s face is virtual and the changes do not register the moment after the snap…the delirium tremens… and that is coming…

  • Annoying Old Guy

    Mathieu makes a good point. Give me a camera, a day to follow you around and I’ll be able to print a picture of you demonstrating whatever emotion I want. Therefore, the picture will say very little about you but quite a bit about me and what I think of you. In the same way, any of these pictures could have been taken and printed at any time since Jan, 2000 and mean little to nothing about President Bush or his personal state. What they could be informative about is what other people think about Bush.

  • Anna

    I see Bush getting deeper and deeper into a hole throughout the pictures (going from bottom to top). The bottom picture he seems pretty confident (although I hate the smirky grin), almost like he’s saying to himself “I sure fooled those suckers.” The second to bottom picture he’s off to be the big man, a little worried, but still looks pretty confident. By the third picture he is really getting pissed (Monkey Man!) and the top picture he just looks defeated and like he knows he totally screwed.
    He really is a goofy looking guy.

  • The BAG

    I initially had the covers stacked top to bottom. I’ve now rearranged them in a rectangle, and numbered them so that they are organized in reverse chronological order (1 – newest, 4 – oldest).
    Looking at them this way, a few things jump out at me. The talking heads (David Gergen, for one) are fond of saying that the second term of a presidency naturally involves a decline, and typically involves the emergence of policy failures and scandals. As a rule, I’m not sure about that. It does seem, however, that something is happening to the presidency as you “go around the horn.” The first image shows the victorious Bush; the second the appealing one; the third the slightly sheeping but even more defensive one; and the forth is the chastened/contrite one.
    With the idea of natural (and, according to Gergen, typical) progressions in a presidency, it is interesting to think of the cycle in terms of seasons. It’s not coincidental because each cover shows Bush dressed for the particular time of year (moving from #3 to #1: winter, summer, fall). The seasonal theme, however, emphasizes (at least in terms of these covers, and their chronological sequence) that the Bush presidency is showing signs of age and weathering. (I think a lot of the recent news images of Bush reflect this same thing.) Who knows, though. Bush has a proven history of deflecting most bad news. Could he make a substantial comeback with the return of spring?
    Here are a couple other things I noticed. The cover after the election (#2) suggests that the presidency was really going somewhere. (You could debate “where” exactly, but that’s beside the point.) In the most recent cover, however (#4), Bush looks like he’s on the White House lawn. It’s the scene we identify with his return from somewhere (as if having just stepped off the helicopter). Here again, the feeling is that the presidency happened already, and is now (judging by Bush’s expression) ramping down. Also, I get something of the same impression given that covers 2 & 3 have discernible vistas. With #4 (in comparison), we don’t have the sense that Bush is situated, giving the impression that there is now less context or purpose to him.

  • Marley

    To Annoying Old Guy’s point, I suggest that those who live by the sword (or photo-op as the case may be) shall also die by the sword. The bush admin has been all about managing appearances. If they can’t manage so well anymore because junior’s cracking under pressure, well that’s just too bad.
    I recently had a little discussion with an “independent” voter (ie: someone who feels that no politician meets his/her inscrutably particular and refined tastes). She said that Kerry came off like a stiff, and that’s a big reason why she didn’t like him. So if we’re going to pick leaders based on their mannerisms, then we get the leaders we deserve.

  • djangone

    Bravo Marley! You’ve made the points I would’ve made if I’d gotten here before you.
    The ‘Summer’ Bush is the one that stands out above the others by a mile. That’s the pose Bush took on in his Katrina press briefing in the hangar, standing over the maps. It’s a look that got him a couple million votes all by itself, and I guarantee you that, at some point in his youth, he practiced in a full-length mirror. Now he knows all the ingredients to achieve that attitude like you and I know how to tie our shoes without devoting a conscious neuron to it, and the forearms *must* be bare to make it work. Odd how he always manages to wear the short-sleeved baby-blue at times when he wants to present the ‘manly’ qualities of his presidency…
    This is one aspect to Bush that no Republican hopeful for 2008 can replicate. It’s invaluable to him, and why I say that, in fact, Bush has been a very strong candidate considering the iconic way Americans like to view their leaders, and how the posing, in that ridiculous American fashion, brings in votes by the bushel. Can anyone imagine Mitt Romney taking a pose that expresses a talismanic, photogenic quality like this? McCain? Giuliani?

  • Kerstin

    Marley ~ I blew a gasket on my knitting blog last November and asked “What woman in her right mind would vote for Bush?” The answers were stunning in their superficiality and ignorance. Yes, Kerry’s appearance definitely worked against him. More than one admitted that she “didn’t like the way he looked.” Of course, those of us who live in Boston and know guys who look like Kerry, understand him to be a decent and honorable guy who somehow doesn’t understand that he has to get his hands dirty once in awhile and rough the other guy up.
    But then I ask: why did Bush’s appearance work for him? Is it that those who voted for him simply cannot see behind the smiling mask? Really, this question has been bothering me for awhile.
    AOG ~ Absolutely. Most of us couldn’t take the pressure of the constant eye of the camera. My father-in-law recently told me that I looked remarkably like Roberts’ wife. I seriously considered divorce. ;)
    But as Marley points out, Bush — and everyone in public office — signed up for this scrutiny. The photos are remarkable in that the controlled stage managing is beginning to disintegrate.

  • dennis

    Good point! I stand corrected.

  • Asta

    In reply to the above observations regarding candidates’ appearances, it’s a good thing Abe Lincoln didn’t live during the Television Era. He would have never made it to the primaries.
    These days we base our judgments on image, not substance. And yes, as said earlier, we will get the government we deserve.
    Well, I don’t think *I* deserve this government, but I will find myself sucked in by the rip tide along with the other lemmings.

  • janinsanfran

    Funny. I think the smirking clown on top of the world (#4) is actually the one that puts Bush in the worst light in the eyes of most non-Americans. An American potentate who appears vaguely human might be easier to take.

  • rose

    He likes to compete, he likes to cheat, he likes to win. At this stage he has no competition to focus on which is, I think, the main reason he has spent so much time in the disaster area. It is an opportunity to win people over. Watch for the change when he goes back to campaigning for the next thing he wants to win.

  • donna

    1.) You’ve got the mouth of a she wolf
    Inside the mask of an innocent lamb
    2.)You say your heart is all compassion
    But there’s just a flat line on your cardiogram
    3.) Yet you always made a profit baby
    If it was a famine or a feast
    Yes, I’m the soul of indiscretion,
    I was cursed with x-ray vision,
    I could see right through all the lies you told,
    When you smiled for the television
    4.) And you can see the coming battle
    You pray the drums will never cease
    And you may win this war that’s coming
    But would you tolerate the peace?
    (lyrics by Sting…This War)
    What’s gone wrong for the right? They are great at war, and lousy at peace. If there’s nobody to fight, they are lost. And eventually, as Bush is finding out, the only one to really fight with at all is – yourself. And he’s lost.

  • Wilma

    What immediately comes to mind for me when I look at the “Merci” cover is an elderly/infirm person who is about to lose his balance. While we are supposed to witness a wave, it appears more like flailing to me. He’s about to take a header.
    The post-election photo is not an image of a smiling man. This is a person who is completely inebriated and can barely contain an unsavory admission. He is just dying to let us in on the real story, but knows it is so bad that he can only stretch his face over his mouth in an effort to keep the ugly truth from blasting forth.

  • sos_independent

    Chronologically (with inner monologue):
    1) Smug. “Unite who?”
    2) A very dare I say chic, somewhat flamboyant shot: the robin’s egg blue and the long, glamorous black manteau convey high-class luxury. The French text fits very well, and the China text is cast as just a tiny second thought. What a joyous day this image projects: the Iraqi elections went well, Condie can go shopping for shoes now that Powell is gone, and Turd Blossom’s conservative revolution is finally materializing. “Sure I’ll make friends with mez French amees. Where’s China? Is it in New Orleans? Cuz you know, I got drunk there once. Gotta love the Chinese.”
    3) On holiday almost as much as the French; still he’s convinced, “I am such a cowboy and I look darn good in this belt, don’t ya think?”
    4) A cool, professional exterior racked with inner frustration, presiding over the self-destruction of the Uber-Conservative Revolution. Republican initiatives over the past four years have catalyzed erosion of the Republican base one fiscal conservative and moral Christian at a time. Notably, his isolation has grown sharpest in this photo. “Fuck. What the fuck was Turd Blossom thinkin? If only I didn’t have to wear this darn suit. Hey maybe it would go good with a cowboy hat.”

  • Ernest Tomlinson

    Tell you what the earlier photo reminds me of.
    “The old man [Bush 41] was the real tip-off. The leer on his face was almost frightening. It was like looking into the eyes of a tall hyena with a living sheep in its mouth. The sheep’s fate was sealed, and so was Al Gore’s.” Hunter S. Thompson after the 2000 election.

  • hauksdottir

    Style over substance, again.
    This is an interesting article in that it does call attention to the practiced performance of the non-verbal message:
    “Most of all, White House aides want to reestablish Bush’s swagger — the projection of competence and confidence in the White House that has carried the administration through tough times since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
    Preference for provocative language
    Bush likes to say his job is to make tough decisions and leave the hand-wringing for historians and pundits. He almost never entertains public doubt, which is part of the White House design to build a more powerful presidency. The term “strong leader” appears in at least 98 speeches he has given during his White House years, according to a database search, and was the subtext of his 2004 campaign strategy. He favors provocative language, declaring that he wanted Osama bin Laden “dead or alive” and taunting Iraqi insurgents to “bring ‘em on.”
    He projects this in nonverbal ways as well, the arms-swinging gait of his walk, the glint in his glare, the college boy grin that flashes even in sober moments. Some advisers consider this supreme self-confidence a secret to Bush’s success enacting his first-term agenda and winning reelection in a tough political climate. It reinforced Bush’s image as a decisive leader, which was an important attribute in an election colored by the threat of terrorism, and helped calm congressional Republicans who disagreed with some of the president’s ideas but were won over by the force of his style.
    “You adapt to the circumstances and the circumstances are different,” said Mark McKinnon, Bush’s political consultant and friend. But he added he detected no loss of confidence within the Bush team. “I get zero sense of that. This is an administration and a president that are like the Marines — they’re used to taking the beach, they’re used to getting shelled. But they dig in and they do their jobs.”
    McKinnon said if anything Bush thrives under the pressure. “I’ve never seen the president burdened by the presidency,” he said. “He’s built to deal with really big events. It’s in his DNA.”
    I do have to wonder if all the president’s men drink kool-aid during lunch? Why should his swagger and his smirk be seen as political pluses? Are they all in such absolute and unquestioning love of some macho ideal that they’ll accept a cowboy with no horse as the object of their affection???

  • Molly

    I thought Kerry and Edwards were sexy. Bush makes me squirm, but not that way.

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