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August 12, 2007

Summer Backgrounder


There are props and there are props.

One of the summer’s best theatrical productions has been staged by those dramaturgical experts at the Pennsylvania Avenue Playhouse.  Wanting to avoid any extra wartime slings and arrows, two head-of-state visits have now been shot as a family serial at Poppa Bush’s Maine compound.  In July, for example, the Walkers Point greeting party for Vladimir Putin could have served as the opening frame of “Meet The Bushes.”

Sometimes what’s most telling about a photo, however, is what isn’t there.

Just like the unplanned absence of Mrs. Putin, this weekend’s last minute cancellation by Mrs. Sarkozy and her children turned Laura Bush and the extended Bush clan into extras from central casting.  With all the pretty scenery and the one-sided show of family, however, one tends not to notice what the picture really describes — which is a show of congenial domesticity cooked up by a war-charged Administration to soften the image of its lead alpha male.

(image: Jason Reed/Reuters. August 11, 2007.  Kennebunkport, Maine.  via YahooNews)

  • Rafael

    If the Bush administration wants to hand a fig leaf on Sarkozy, they better prepare for it not to stick. Sarkozy is a right-wing nationalist, which means, France first, everybody else second, including Messrs. Bush. He may laugh at the joke, but is he laughing at or with Georgie?

  • ummabdullah2002

    Bush is probably giddy at the thought that there’s someone out there who actually seems to be on his side. Look at the way he’s got his hand around Laura’s neck, though.

  • Marley

    I looked at this picture in the Boston Globe yesterday. Laura looks pissed, and her left hand is clenched. Babs, Laura and Pops all look pretty tense. The Bush’s, even dear mother, are keeping their hands off of George. He must be radioactive.

  • Jackie King

    Didn’t you forget one? Putin, Sarkozy and also Brown. I don’t understand all these family reunion greetings of leaders. Well, I suppose I do. This inept administration has failed in all levels of policy. But it mocks Americans to see the shrubs eat cake and dance while we suffer with so many frustrations. Sad too, that these supposedly independent heads could be used as party props. Or are they the ones using bush?

  • margaret

    Jackie King, they weren’t eating cake, they were eating hot dogs, French fries, and baked beans….something my 7 year old grandniece reacted to with ” What a joke! He’s rich enough to feed them something nicer than that!” I think the menu was a typical Bush insult, bully-like humiliation to let anybody know who is boss. And, yes, Bush really is closer, physically to Mr. Szarkozy than his wife. His father seems quite distracted, and pained in expression. Well, his lack of parenting skills brought about this….to survey his own failure in this regard has to be painful.
    Oh, happy Birthday to me: Karl Rove resigned!

  • Harley

    Bush and the hands. Once again he doesn’t know what to do so he mauls the French president. Could Laura be standing any further away? Bush is trying to pull her closer by the nape of her neck, like a cat. I’d bet she is furious at having been conned into being there to greet Mme. Sarkozy. Sarkozy looks like he is trying to execute a merkle, but without Angela’s panache. Poppa is staring off into space as if he would rather be ANY where else. Dontcha just love these little glimpses into the Bush family love?

  • PTate in FR

    So interesting that all these Bush family photos show Papa Bush, just off center, hands in pockets. It’s as if the WH is trying to reassure conservatives that Papa has W under control. How extraordinarily painful it must be for W’s parents to see their child fail so spectacularly.
    Sarkhozy isn’t “a right-wing nationalist”, as Rafael claims, unless one defines right-wing as somewhere left of Hillary Clinton. Labeling him as such reflects a cultural myopia. As for being a nationalist, his choice to vacation in the US is fascinating. He may be the first French president in history to vacation outside of France.
    In the first four months of his presidency, Sarkhozy has made a number of symbolic gestures that suggest that the ambition of his presidency is to position France squarely in the global economy. His vacation in Maine is one of these. One has to remember the context in which his vacation to the USA and his visit to the Bush family estate occurs. Not so many years ago, France stood up to the US over the Iraq war. I am sure that everyone remembers the American response: “freedom fries” and conservative bile and ridicule. In hindsight, we look pretty stupid.
    So what strikes me in this photo is how GWB is leaning on Sarko. Sarko is smaller than Bush, and his jacket looks too big for him. The combination makes him look less powerful and competent (which he absolutely is.) So is this a picture for what remains of Bush’s base, reassuring them that Bush (and America) rule even if Bush is now sucking up to France? Or can we pretend that France is sucking up to the US?
    Another interesting factoid to think about as you view this picture: Sarko doesn’t speak English.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Drunks really know how to have a good time together. Speaking the same language isn’t necessary. You can see this classic pose in any bar just before closing.

  • g

    hot dogs, French fries, and baked beans….something my 7 year old grandniece reacted to with ” What a joke! He’s rich enough to feed them something nicer than that!”
    I’m with your grandniece, margaret. First thing I thought when I read that menu what – what, with all the great New England seafood available, they fed the guy hot dogs? How tacky is that?

  • ummabdulla

    I thought the same thing, RTBAG. Maybe Sarkozy brought some wine, and he and Georgie, at least, indulged.

  • PTate in FR

    readytoblowagasket & ummabdulla: That’s a cheap shot.
    g and margaret: I suspect that hot dogs, french fries & brown beans–a speciality of the region–is just as interesting to a Frenchman as seafood. The French really do have the best food in the world, seafood included. Americans can’t do better, we can only do different. Hot dogs and brown beans is the American version of cassoulet.
    I’m fascinated by the perceptions of Sarkozy glimpsed through this lens. From my perch in France, I am growing to admire him more and more.

  • jtfromBC

    “Sarkozy is not fluent in English” but I speculate his vocabulary may be comparable to that of Bush.
    When it comes to diplomacy and attitude they do have a lot in common. a comment that will infuriate traditionalists, he says “that the French should no longer insist on speaking their own language in international negotiations and instead should use English ”,,13509-2274343_1,00.html
    I assume he excempts himself for not speaking English at social occasions and wienie roasts.

  • readytoblowagasket

    PTate, re: That’s a cheap shot.
    To whom is it unfair? I meant it as a legitimate observation:
    1) I’ve never had an ounce of sympathy for Laura Bush until this photo. The side closest to her husband is completely stiff (leg straightened, knee locked, fist clenched, or so it appears to me), like she must support Bush’s unsteady weight, which is awkwardly resting on her neck. Her shoulders are hyperextended backward (compare hers to GWB’s), and her head is leaning forward, as if he is hurting her and/or as if she’s trying to shrug him off of her (similar to if less dramatic than Merkel’s backward-thrusting shoulder move). Although GWB is touching Laura, she is as far away from him as she can get without being obvious; there is as much space between them as between the elder Bushes, who aren’t touching each other at all. My guess is Laura is all too familiar with this (drunkard’s) grip and recoils from it.
    2) GHWB and Babs are standing slightly behind the merry threesome and off to the side, not just ignored but excluded, exuding helpless passivity. Their tucked-away hands (in pockets, behind back) match their miserable yet resigned expressions. Perhaps they put their hands away to keep from wringing them. Oh, no, he’s drinking again, could well be their joint thought bubble.
    3) We know GWB is an alcoholic, and we know he has “boundary” issues (as many alcoholics do). Here, he is far too familiar with Sarkozy (according to American custom), a head of state he barely knows. He is pulling Sarko into him (again, by the neck), their bodies touching intimately (is Sarkozy’s shoulder right up in GWB’s armpit?). Although they can’t speak each other’s language, Bush surely gets off on Sarko’s short-guy machismo, and in typical threatened fashion, needs to dominate Sarko like he did with Merkel and Putin (skip to photo 8). The body contact between these two men is inappropriate for acquaintances of their (reputed) caliber, even in a “vacation” (or family estate) setting. Unless, of course, they’re drunk, in which case, it’s totally fine. What might they be discussing: the tanking economy, the failed war in Iraq, the finer points of Bush’s domestic spying program, immigration? Whatever it is, Sarko looks positively gleeful, like he’s pledging the Bush Family fraternity.
    4) I came upon the Sarkozy/G8 video clip by accident. At one point during his speech, a droopy-eyed Sarkozy makes a swinging movement with his head that literally gave me vertigo as I watched it. And listening to his panting toward the end of the clip made me queasy. After viewing the clip, I saw the photo above in a new light.
    So, that informs my read of this image, PTate. What’s cheap-shot about it?

  • PTate in FR

    readytoblowagasket:“Drunks really know how to have a good time together”“What’s cheap-shot about it?”
    The cheap shot is calling Nicholas Sarkozy a “drunk”–as if he had a persistent drinking problem like GWB’s–because of his behavior on the unique G8 clip. In France, that clip was surprising because Sarkozy has always been extremely tight and disciplined. This was one of the rare moments when he was perceived as human.
    I don’t see Sarkozy as “gleeful”–he looks as uncomfortable to me as Laura. He looks to me as if he really wishes he didn’t have to be there.
    I agree about GWB and boundaries. In this photo, GWB looks out of control, and everyone around him looks uncomfortable.

  • readytoblowagasket

    PTate, here’s a close-up of the same image. I’m sticking with “gleeful.”
    Calling someone a drunk who appears drunk in public is not a cheap shot.
    Besides, it doesn’t mean you can’t still be president.

  • readytoblowagasket

    NB: “you” in my last comment means “one,” of course.

  • PTate in FR

    readytoblowagasket: “I’m sticking with “gleeful.”
    Here’s the photo published in LeMonde. I’m sticking with “uncomfortable.” I can’t get over Sarkozy’s grin; The French don’t smile like Americans do (they experience the American smile as superficial and insincere). I see his expression as a conscious, awkward attempt to bridge this cultural divide. Here’s another one I found interesting (check out GWB’s expression.)
    I also wonder what you imagine Sarkozy would be feeling gleeful about? Consider his situation. The French were deeply suspicious of his visit. It isn’t as if GWB is admired in France. Even his wife refused to accompany him. Then he finds himself in an intimate Bush family group with the POTUS leaning on him, his arm around Sarkozy’s shoulders. And Sarko not speaking English–it must have been surreal.
    Labelling Sarkozy as a drunk and his behavior as “gleeful” strikes me as primarily a cynical insider joke, by Americans for Americans, about our own disaster of a Prez. Among other things that the Bush years have devastated is our ability to respect political leaders.

  • Harley

    What struck me about the blow-up provided by rtbag is how extremely uncomfortable Poppy Bush looks. He does NOT want to be there. My guess is that Bar made him do it.

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