He's missing the point.
I'm positive that President Bush is missing the point.
The point that we don't have to be friends in order to work together nicely and politely.
In fact, when two people are frequently operating from opposite points of view, to presume a friendship or overly friendly manner can come across a bit like demeaning, patronizing, or even possibly bullying.
Take the most recent example: Bush's offer to help Nancy Pelosi with interior decorating, specifically his offer to help her select drapes.
Of course it's a joke.
But a bad one.
It leaves the mistaken impression that there is a behind-the-scenes friendliness that I am sure isn't there. And worse, it causes a seed of doubt of purpose to linger in the minds of voters: Pelosi's most pressing concern is drapes? As the new Speaker?
Never mind that it backfires as you must visualize both Bush and Pelosi poring over fabric samples, holding swatches up to the wall by the window, and taking turns looking at the material from different angles.
Meanwhile, almost 3000 dead in Iraq (not counting civilians, which is over 25,000), over 45 million Americans without health insurance, 1,782,643 bankruptcies filed (an increase in 2005 despite the new law), teacher attrition costs exceed 2.2 billion dollars a year, and so forth.
Bush and Pelosi are happily stroking fine fabrics together. What a cozy picture.
What's that? Ease up? Allow a little humor? Let in a little friendliness? Take it for a point, not a literal thing?
Sure. I can take and enjoy a joke as well as the next guy. Except in my opinion, Bush's humor is often severely out of line.
His comments/jokes aren't exclusive to his political opponents. In fact, his press corps is his most frequent target.
Why does Bush so frequently comment on a reporter's personal appearance?
As with the decorating comment about Pelosi, on the surface it looks like, oh how nice, what a nice personal relationship he has with his press corps, who he still likes even if some of them skewer him now and again.
I don't think it's nice.
I think it's deliberate, with bad intent. I think it is a multi layer complicated issue. He's meant to show himself as a "good guy" who is "nice" but also to disarm and distract the reporter...and his dogged persistence.
Consider the press conference of October 11, 2006 when---in the middle of discussing nuclear tests and before addressing a difficult question about the "red line"---Bush took the press conference offline for a moment to discuss clothes:
THE PRESIDENT: Kevin.
Q Thank you, Mr. President --
THE PRESIDENT: If I might say, that is a beautiful suit.
Q Thank you, sir. My tailor appreciates that.
THE PRESIDENT: And I can't see anybody else that even comes close. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you very much. I'll be happy to pass along my tailor's number if you'd like that, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: I'll take that back. I will recognize that -- please.
Q On May 23, 2003, sir, you said -- you effectively drew a line in the sand. You said, "We will not tolerate a nuclear North Korea." And yet now it appears that they have crossed that line. And I'm wondering what now, sir, do you say to both the American people and the international community vis-à-vis what has happened over the last 48 hours?
(Source: October 11, 2006 Press Conference)
It's not half as effective in writing as it was in person. The reporter was eager to behave professionally, pose his question quickly, and get his answer. His tone in his answers and his body language after the first comment about his suit was to close that line down, and move on to the discussion at hand. Bush ignored that three times.
I started paying attention to how frequently this occurs after the incident with the reporter---who had an eye condition---and the sunglasses he was wearing.
In general, I find it questionable to comment overtly and in detail, especially persistently, on someone's appearance, particularly at the workplace.
It's been done to me. And it was uncomfortable because it gave the impression that how I looked was important. I made sure to be clean, and dress professionally. The point was to have my appearance not be an issue. That way, we could focus on the work. Instead, we opened each meeting with a ten minute segue about my outfit (usually a very basic navy or black suit) or alternate ways to tie my neckscarf. I was uncomfortable enough being five to ten years younger than my mostly male management colleagues. By focusing on my appearance---and only mine---I felt even more spotlighted and ultimately, degraded. I understood my boss intended to "treat me like a lady" and meant well. However, in the workplace, I wanted to be viewed as a worker, just like my male colleagues. I didn't ask for courtesy, I hoped for respect. A goal that I lost to some degree by virtue of every day focusing on my appearance.
The occasional comment is understandable.
However, when your entire repertoire of personally relating to people revolves around superficial factors such as what they are wearing or drapes...then you aren't really personally relating. You are distracting and detracting.
In fact, what my boss did to me and what Bush did to Nancy Pelosi is called Everyday Sexism.
According to a recent study, "Women experienced about one to two impactful sexist incidents per week, consisting of traditional gender role stereotypes and prejudice, demeaning and degrading comments and behaviors, and sexual objectification."
This same study said:
These incidents affected women's psychological well-being by decreasing their comfort, increasing their feelings of anger and depression, and decreasing their state self-esteem. Although the experiences had similar effects on men's anger, depression, and state self-esteem, men reported relatively fewer sexist incidents, suggesting less overall impact on men. The results provide evidence for the phenomena of everyday prejudice and enlighten our understanding of the experience of prejudice in interpersonal encounters from the perspective of the target.
(Source: Perceptions of and Affective Reactions to Prejudice and Discrimination
Everyday Sexism: Evidence for Its Incidence, Nature, and Psychological Impact From Three Daily Diary Studies, Janet K. Swim, Lauri L. Hyers, Laurie L. Cohen & Melissa J. Ferguson Journal of Social Issues, Volume 57, Issue 1, Page 31 - Spring 2001, doi:10.1111/0022-4537.00200)
I'm not saying I believe that this did affect Nancy Pelosi in this way---or the reporters---but in my opinion, Bush is being personal in this manner deliberately, in order to achieve this result. Or at least pollute people's minds with the idea.
To reiterate, the idea that Pelosi is initially most concerned with drapes, even if once we think about it, we realize how ridiculous it is.
But that's the point, isn't it? That we, the American public, don't think. That if you keep feeding us this subversive advertising message---this subliminal message---it will take root in our minds and grow.
To be honest, I think all too frequently it does.
Look at that study I cited and consider how frequently women experience everday sexism: one to two a week. And that's in college.
Look at how many people stated they accepted invading Iraq because of 9/11, although even Bush claims he never said that was the reason why. (However, he did link the two time and again by putting 9/11 in the first sentence, and invade Iraq in the second sentence...to the point that the average person related the two.)
It's an effort for me to stay up on current events. With two small children and a busy schedule, I have very little time to watch the news (or even read it) much less to think critically about it. So I admit that while staying current is an effort, deconstructing, researching, and critically analyzing information is an even bigger effort.
I understand how challenging it is to decide about information rather than simply accept what is told to me.
That is why I believe it is absolutely crucial that our leaders set a positive and honest example, and that our newscasters add "critical thinking before objective reporting" to their job goals.
And as for us? The listener and viewer? It's effort, but we need to carefully consider information handed to us, research it, compare that statement against other points of view, and carefully---critically---make our own decisions. The name of the game is propaganda, and it is rampant.
Next time, Mr. President, you want to relate personally or convey friendliness about someone you work with? Stick to the job. Leave the personal comments to private, or off work hours.
By Julie Pippert
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