) – On Tuesday night Keith Olbermann on MSNBC threw a question to guest Bill Maher that seemed to give this quick witted comedian a few seconds of pause.
The question was, basically, if you could ask Bush one question while he was hooked up to a lie detector, what would it be?
Maher’s first answer was that he’d ask Bush under truth serum if he really thought he was in over his head.
But then he gave it some more thought and said what he’d really like to know was exactly what Bush was thinking about when told that we were under attack on 9-11 and he just sat there like Forrest Gump. See enlarged image
Newpaper accounts vary as to the exact words Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, whispered to him while he was sitting in the classroom with "The Pet Goat" upside-down on his lap. But it hardly matters whether Card said "a second plane has hit the second tower. America is under attack" or "a second plane has hit the World Trade Center, America is under attack."
The salient facts are not in dispute. You can see a series of still pictures taken every ten seconds from Card telling Bush about the attacks until, five minutes later, Bush left the room, or look at a video of the five minutes on The Memory Hole website here
Bush knew about the first plane hitting one of the towers, but at that time there was no way to know for certain it was anything but a tragic accident.
When the second plane hit there was no doubt this was an attack.
What apologists for Bush say.
Here’s an excerpt from the syrupy sweet "George and Laura: Portrait Of An American Marriage" by Christopher Andersen. The author couldn’t suger-coat what is probably the most glaring example of incompetence and ineptitude of any presidency ever caught on video if he dipped his words in chocolate.
The President, sitting with his legs crossed and his hands folded in his lap, was intensely aware of the television cameras that were recording his every expression. "I have nobody to talk to," he thought to himself as he tried to absorb it all in an instant. "My God, I’m Commander-in-Chief and the country has just come under attack!"
There was no way he could conceal his feelings of shock and dismay at the horrible news. There was a fleeting look of panic in the President’s eyes as Card stepped back. "It was a surreal moment," Card later said. "It was immediately obvious that it was neither an accident nor a coincidence."
But without all the facts at hand, George Bush had no intention of upsetting the schoolchildren who had come to read for him. The rest of the children’s story about the goat did not register with him at all, but the President, raising his eyebrows and nodding, interrupted the second graders to praise them. "Really good readers, whew!" Bush told the class. "This must be sixth grade.", Reference
There’s also an interesting and informative eleven page account of the entire timeline, "Revealed: what really went on during Bush’s ‘missing hours’ " in The U.K. Daily Telegraph.
The country was distracted and Bush skated.
Of course, most citizens were stunned by the attack and this was the main distraction from analyzing their president’s mental state as evidenced by those five minutes.
But there were two side elements of the "Pet Goat" incident which proved to be additional distractions as Bush emersed himself, quit successfully, in the persona of being the post-9-11 macho hero president.
The first is the comedic opportunities provided by Bush holding the book upside-down and pretending to read along silently as the children read aloud. I suppose this could be an indication that he can’t mulit-task very well, or that he could care less about the human "props" in hs photo ops, or on the other hand perhaps he just needed his reading glasses.
Correction: There has been some confusion about the pictures of Bush reading a book to the children. This is due to the fact that there were actually two books. One was Lynne Cheney’s book, "America: A Patriotic Primer" That’s the book that supposedly was altered to be upside-down. That’s the book in this picture from the urban legends website Snopes.
One might note that this was a shameless plug for Bush’s veep’s wife that the president should be above engaging in, at least until he’s out of office plugging a book on Oprah.
The vice president’s wife’s book was used in a photo op but wasn’t the book he was reading to the children when told about the 9-11 attack. The book Bush was reading in the video you can view Bush reading here was another children’s book titled Reading Mastery Storybook Level 1, from which he was reading the story "The Pet Goat".
But a more significant distraction was inadvertantly provided by the conspiracy theorists, who were eager to find reasons to link Bush with the actual attack. They claimed then and still claim that the reason for his inaction in those crucial minutes was that he already knew about the plot.
The country was in shock, in mourning, and out for vevenge. Most people took mockery about upside-down "The Pet Goat" from those they considered Bush haters to be disrespectful at best and treasonous at worst.
Most people dismissed the notion that Bush just sat there doing nothing as proof he knew in advance about the plot as being the paranoid aberations of "conspiracy nuts".
if Bush had prior knoweldge of an attack he would have played out a well rehearsed demonstration of leadership and competence. That the Secret Service in not acting immediately to initiate protective action was mostl likely due to thier not being ordered to do so by Andrew Card, and their not having a protocol for such an event. It is implausible that the Secret Service could have been involved in a plot to kill Americans.
What’s really important.
The majority of the people who read and comment on Capitol Hill Blue agree that we want a president who would have instantly realized the gravity of the news whispered by Andrew Card, and not have waited five minutes sitting there, no matter what supposedly profound presidential thoughts he was having.
Bush’s later claim that he didn’t want to upset the children, presumably by quickly excusing himself and leaving the room, by saying as he should have that he had to attend to urgent matters just came to his attention, is patently absurd. There were fifteen children in the room and some 150 adults, the United States is under an attack that might be the first wave a major coordinated attack involving dirty bombs, chemical or biological weapons.
And he wants us to believe he was worried about upsetting fifteen children?
In fact, it was the first wave of an attack, and two planes had yet to hit the Pentagon and crash in Pennsylvania.
Bush – and his Secret Service agents – didn’t even know if he might be a target himself since his itinerary was public. If that was the case the children could have been killed.
Because the country and the media were intently focused on the opening salvo against us that morhped to the war against Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, the Taliban and and of course terrorists, indisputable evidence of Bush’s incompetence under stress was overlooked.
Unfit for duty, then and now
I believe that Bush’s behavior appears to be due to his being unable to process information vital to the safety of the United States, and is suggestive of his having a cognitive impairment. If he had this impairment then, it is likely he has it now. He just hasn’t been tested under intense unanticipated stress. Can we afford to take the chance that Bush will freeze again if we’re attacked, or perhaps much worse, make an impulsive catastrophic decision?
If circumstances had been different and the majority of the country hadn’t rallied behind the post 9-11 president, there’s still no way Bush that Cheney and his cabinet or a Republican Congress would have invoked the provisions of the 25th Amendment, Article 4 (see below) for removing a mentally incapacitated president. They could have taken the unprecedented step of having him temporarily removed from office until he underwent a psychiatric and neurological evaluation to prove he was able to function as president based on those five long minutes where, essentially, the country was left without a functional president.
I think invoking Section 4 of the 25th Amendment would have been justified on medical grounds because there was a strong enough indication Bush had a mental condition that made him unfit to serve as president. After all, presidents are like police officers and surgeons in that freezing under extreme stress isn’t acceptable, even for a few seconds let alone five minutes. They they did they’d be fired.
Of course, when someone pulls a gun on a cop, or a patient on the operating table has a seizure, only one life may be lost if the cop or doctor has to ponder what to do next.
When a president is told America is under attack millions of lives are at stake.
We will never know what was really going on with Bush during those five minutes. But we do know that he did nothing.
For all extents and purposes, Bush froze under pressure.
Is this the kind of president you want?
(Update) – Response to forty comments below
Update: April 1, 2007
There is no doubt as to what is shown on the tape.
Andrew Card told Bush something. We can’t determine what he said. For all we know conspiracy theorists are right and Card told Bush "plan X has begun" and Bush was supposed to respond in ways he’d rehearsed.
Even if that is true, how likely is it that the plan was for Bush to sit there for five minutes doing nothing?
I bet that the majority of Americans never watched the entire tape where five minutes, knowing what we know now, seems interminable.. My hunch is that they only watched the briefer segments showing on the news.
If they watched it all they might have been more concerned about thier president’s qualification to run the country in a time of crisis. If you haven’t watched the five minutes I suggest you go back to my column and do so.
If Bush was "in the loop" then he badly screwed up and still became immobilized instead of playing out the rehearsed act as the in-charge president providing historic video for his re-election.
Don’t forget, this is the president who, under Rove’s tutilage, has elevated phony photo ops to an art form.
THE SECRET SERVICE
I can’t imagine how the Secret Service could have been "in the loop" and in fact, if they were, it makes sense that they would have had a plan to act immediately as part as the Bush acting presidential show.
It seems most likely that they did nothing because Andrew Card didn’t tell them to act, and because they had no protocol for an event like one plane hitting a builidng like the WTC.
DID WE HAVE A CATATONIC COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF?
I am not surprised that many of those who commented on my column went off on tangents of particular interest to them like a 9-11 conspiracy and Zionism. This is what happened after 9-11, and what I contend was a distraction from taking a hard look at Bush’s mental capacity.
Perhaps the majority of readers agreed with me even though only a few posters supported my own non-conspriacy theory.
Bush’s reaction, or lack thereof, is indicative of his not being able to cognitively function the way we should expect a president to function under sudden stress.
The principle of Occam’s Razor, also called the law of succinctness or parsimony states that "the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating, or shaving off, those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory."
The simplest explanation for those five minutes is that Bush has a cognitive impairment.
Section 4: Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.