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Bush's Way or the Highway

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George W. Bush's Sept. 15 outburst threatening to stop interrogating terror suspects if Congress doesn't let him revise the Geneva Conventions to permit coercive techniques is part of a pattern of petulance that dates back to even before the 9/11 attacks but has resurfaced as Bush faces new challenges to his authority.

In summer 2001, less than six months into his presidency while confronting congressional obstacles to his domestic program, Bush told followers that he was ready to "go back to Crawford" if he didn't get his way on legislation.

That threat came after Sen. Jim Jeffords, a Vermont Republican, joined with the Democrats to give them narrow control of the Senate in mid-2001. Bush also was facing defeat on a patients' bill of rights.

In a meeting with congressional allies, "Bush appeared to draw a line in the sand when he indicated he always could return to Crawford, Texas, if the liberal health juggernaut grinds him down," wrote right-wing columnist Robert D. Novak. [Washington Post, July 5, 2001]

Besides the patients' bill of rights, Bush found himself battling congressional momentum in favor of new campaign-finance restrictions.

In the context of Bush fighting those two popular bills, Los Angeles Times political writer Ronald Brownstein also picked up word of Bush issuing a "back to Crawford" threat, this one recounted by a GOP lobbyist close to the administration.

Bush "continues to send a signal that, 'I'm going to do what I want to do, and if nobody likes it, I'm going to go back to Crawford'," Brownstein wrote, quoting the lobbyist. [Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2001]

Back then, Republicans framed Bush's "back to Crawford" threats as a sign of his principled leadership as well as a new self-confidence in asserting his authority.
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"Gone is the tentativeness of 20 months ago, of the lost man of the early Republican debates," wrote Ronald Reagan's speechwriter Peggy Noonan in an article for the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. "In its place seems an even-keeled confidence, even a robust faith in his own perceptions and judgments." [WSJ, June 25, 2001]

However, Bush's critics saw something else: a troubling self-centeredness more befitting an autocrat than a leader of a democratic Republic. To them, Bush was a callow, ill-prepared politician who seemed oblivious to the fact that he had risen to his exalted status because of family connections and tough political tactics, not through hard work and talent.

The critics noted that Bush's sense of entitlement sometimes would spill out in his humor, when he'd put down people in his presence or he'd joked about his preference for autocracy. "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator," he quipped on Dec. 18, 2000.

Though Bush never did quit his job, he did seek comfort back at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he retreated for a month-long vacation in August 2001.

The course of Bush's presidency changed dramatically on Sept. 11, 2001, however, when al-Qaeda terrorists attacked targets in New York and Washington. The 9/11 attacks gave Bush a new mantle as "war president" and he exploited that opening to assert "plenary" or unlimited powers as Commander in Chief.
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With Republicans reclaiming the Senate in 2002 and the federal courts initially giving Bush wide latitude Bush got pretty much whatever he wanted and his petulance was subsumed by his new presidential swagger.

Mystical Leader

Now, five years later, Bush's supporters see an almost mystical leader who exudes manly powers and possesses a farsighted vision for saving the world. In one of those paeans to Bush, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote on Sept. 14, 2006:

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at

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