Thursday, March 25, 2010

Interpreting the Bush hand-wipe

This video of George W. Bush shaking hands with a Haitian and then wiping his hands on Bill Clinton's shirt is making the rounds today:

How do we interpret this act?  It actually reminded me of this moment in 2000, when Bush cleaned his eyeglasses on the sweater of one of David Letterman's employees.  One might interpret it as a sign that Bush is a kick-down type of guy who believes everyone is his servant and is abusive to subordinates.  But that's inconsistent with everything else we know about him.  Regardless of what you think about his presidency, by pretty much all accounts, he seems to be a pretty good boss.  He listens -- even defers -- to his advisors, comes up with chummy nicknames for people, etc.  Very few of his employees have left to talk trash about him personally.

So what kind of a person wipes his hands on Bill Clinton's shirt?  This just goes to my running theory that presidents are necessarily weird people.  The levels of ambition and ego necessary to tolerate the things that need to be tolerated to obtain and hold that job are way off the scale and tend to manifest themselves in some weird way on personality.  With Kennedy and Clinton, it involved infidelity.  With Nixon, it involved near-psychotic paranoia.  With Bush, it's using other people's clothing for towels.  Weird, but there are worse sins.


Anonymous said...

Some comedians have proved why Bush REALLY wiped his hand on Clinton's shirt at

Jonathan Bernstein said...

Perhaps. You may recall that a lot of people interpreted the nickname thing as a status play (top dog gets to give everyone else nicknames, some of which were not exactly respectful, but underlings don't get to give POTUS a nickname.

There was also some stuff about him enforcing petty stuff -- e.g. starting meetings on time -- that was also consistent with a style that had a sort of enforced "chummy, we're all friends, whether you like it or not" kind of style.

That said, your main point is a good one, IMO.