And there are the abundant examples of anecdotes that end at blank walls, parables without point, long and rambling tautologies: in short, times when the president of the United States seems to go to his special place and leave his mouth to fend for itself. Reporters cannot say as much, since presidents do not act this way: They don't talk without thinking. They do not have to feign interest in their own words. Some presidents are found to be miscreants--it proves the system works!--but none is ever a fool. Members of the media keep to this script, except when they are laughing together over drinks.
Nor will the fourth estate brook any suggestion that the campaign game is fixed. On the day last week when he visited St. Paul, I listened to the MPR broadcast of Bush's talk that afternoon in Hudson, Wisconsin. Afterward, the handpicked Republican crowd was solicited for questions, lobbing softball after softball in W's direction.
The first: We're praying for you, Mr. President. Nothing more, really.
Bush fumbled it. Specifically, he could not stay engaged long enough to finish an earnest-seeming thanks. "This is an amazing country..." he intoned in conclusion, then faltered--"which..."--aw, fuck!, he's thinking--"prays for..."--sounding more mystified now, but nearly home--"me."
The tent-revival aspect of the gathering kept floating to the surface. Another concerned citizen for Bush, who identified himself as a "youth minister," asked after faith-based initiatives. But it was only an entrée to his real question, which concerned any plans the president might have for publicly exposing Satan and his works. Bush thanked the young man for his own works but let the devil off the hook entirely in his reply. Soon, mercifully, it was back on the bus and off to the city.
Every day now, this sort of painfully contrived sideshow is passed off as the president meeting the people on the grand road of democracy. The next morning the Star Tribune summarized his trip thus: "A wide embrace for Bush in St. Paul." It would have been nearly as accurate, and more apt, to make that "Bush in Wisconsin: Soft on Satan?" But the script forbids making fun of the president, even when he's making fun of the script.