I recently turned 60. I didn't hit the lottery again last month. I tend to miss the sun this time of year. I thought these were the reasons I was down in the dumps. Then the true explanation hit me: I am suffering from George Bush Syndrome.
GBS, as it shall henceforth be known, is rooted in the fact that Bush may be the dullest president since Calvin Coolidge. In the month or so he's been in office, Bush has pledged to do better by education, raise the pay of our brave servicemen and women, and give us all the tax cut we so unarguably deserve. I know all this stuff is important, but I can hardly write these words without falling into a stupor.
Is it any wonder that Bill Clinton -- wonderful, newsworthy, controversial, hated, loved, polarizing Bill Clinton -- still dominates the news? We journalists cannot let go. It's true, of course, that Clinton continues to provide material -- the pardons, the gifts, the office rent, the move to Harlem. My heart leaped when the always creative Senator Arlen Specter said that Clinton could still be impeached. Oh, yes: news! Bring back Henry Hyde and the boys.
But Bush? He's an abstraction, the genial face of an issueless time. He wants to get along, go along, and, of course, get his own way. Sooner or later, he may get into a real fight with the Democrats in Congress, but at this moment it's hard to see what the issue will be -- and whether anyone will care. Bush cannot make news.
Last month Bush went to war against Iraq -- for a day. A bomb here, a bomb there, and then it was over. Purely routine, he said -- and a day later there was nothing more to write. In contrast, when Clinton did something similar -- bombed an Osama bin Laden camp in Afghanistan and a suspected chemical weapons facility in the Sudan -- he broke off his Martha's Vineyard vacation and winged it back to the White House. Bush undoubtedly would have stayed where he was. He's not going to let something "routine" break his routine.
Bush is for faith and against crime. He wants every kid to read. Math would be a good idea, too. He's for chastity, charity, and, probably, chocolate. This is not the stuff of table-thumping columns.
I have been through this before -- and survived. I lived through the Ronald Reagan era. He was frustratingly agreeable, too. Once, when I was writing a column of such blistering criticism the words fairly smoked on the page, I got a message from Air Force One. It was a birthday greeting from the president. I walked around the newsroom trying to get my dander up. It was hard. Reagan was such a nice guy.
I survived Reagan, I'll survive Bush. But I was younger then, more confident in my judgment, wisdom, and, yes, brilliance.
I just knew Reagan was wrong about everything. Looking back, I can see that here and there -- such as the way he handled the Cold War -- he was just possibly right, but what's more important is that he made news. He fired the air traffic controllers right off. Maybe Bush will fire the forest rangers. I call this "faith-based optimism."
I despair. It's been a couple of days since Bill Clinton last made news. Maybe something will break soon -- an armed robbery or something his aides talked him into at the time. I know I can't count on Bush. Mr. Nice Guy! Mr. Routine. I'm counting the days. Less than three years until the presidential campaign starts up again. Only one person can lift my depression.
Richard Cohen is a member of the Washington Post Writers Group. His columns frequently appear in the Flyer.