Re: Bush Agonistes

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Like Jay, I was struck by the sense of remorse — and responsibility — that permeated Dowd’s interview, as well as by its apparently spontaneous nature. (A PR person I know asked after she heard the news: “Does he have a book coming out?” He doesn’t.)

But what looks like genuine regret to some can be spun as irrational emotionalism by others. Reporters say that the White House has been quietly implying that Dowd’s turnaround stems from “personal problems.” For his part, Dan Bartlett says

I only pointed out what Matthew told Jim [Rutenberg, the Timesman who snagged the talk)] in the story… That it’s been a long personal journey for him over the last several years. His family life [in the last few years, he’s lost a twin daughter and has been divorced] and the decision of his son to enlist [an Arabic specialist who will likely be sent to Iraq] has impacted his thinking… You won’t find one negative comment from any of us who know him.

Tone is one way to distinguish between expressions of sympathy and the subtle implication that someone is acting out of emotion rather than reason. (I believe the latter, Karen, is a form of “concern trolling.”) I couldn’t get Bartlett on the phone about this — or to say anything more — so maybe his emphasis on personal nature of Dowd’s decision was not intended as anything besides an acknowledgement of his friend’s recent struggles. Two things bear mentioning: First, evincing concern and implying irrationality are not at all mutually exclusive; politically, I tend to think the White House would like to have it both ways. Second, anyone who didn’t reconsider his politics after going through what Dowd has would be a cold man indeed — or the Vice President. And, you know, it shouldn’t take that much to change your mind about this administration or the war. For a growing majority of the American public, it hasn’t.