Bush follows gut instincts

Not a leader given to self-doubt or back-and-forth discussions of issues, the president sets a course and rarely turns back to revisit his decisions.

Election 2004

The Republican Convention

August 29, 2004|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK - When White House aides enter the Oval Office to speak with President Bush, there are dos and don'ts: Look polished. Never be late. Most of all: Be clear and quick in what you say. The boss isn't fond of lengthy policy chats.

Bush likes hearing differing opinions - just not long ones. If he feels an adviser has veered from a topic, he'll often send the person away to try again later. Once satisfied he has heard all he needs to, Bush tends to reach a decision largely on gut instinct. Seldom does he turn back.

"He works things through quickly in his mind," said a close adviser and friend. "He can tell a good idea from a bad idea extremely well. He's not interested in the back-and-forth on issues."

Bush stands resolutely by the gravest decision of his presidency: to go to war in Iraq. The decision, made in the face of resistance from most U.S. allies, showed the brand of leadership Bush aspires to - bold, decisive, unshakable. Yet Iraq has also cost him sizable public support and would likely be the factor most mentioned by historians if he is unseated.

As George W. Bush moves toward Election Day, there are plenty of policy moves and speeches voters will judge him by. But they will also take the measure of the man - what kind of person he is, how trustworthy, how comfortable he makes people. Americans have long based their choices not just on politics but also on character and other personal traits.

One tantalizing question is whether voters in November will embrace or reject Bush's style of decision-making, a style that seems to have no patience for self-doubt or second-guessing.

It's an approach many admire. Bush impressed Americans with the way he soothed the nation after Sept. 11. He strikes many as plain-spoken and authentic. Most voters see him as a man of strength who does not dither and does not engage in the politician's trick of speaking on both sides of an issue.

Yet even as they applaud his leadership, a majority also think Bush erred in deciding to invade Iraq based on intelligence that turned out to be wrong and starting a war that has killed nearly 1,000 Americans. How voters resolve that paradox will help determine whether Bush becomes a two-term president.

Americans may or may not know more personal sides of Bush. He loves his pickup truck and enjoys chopping underbrush on his ranch - never mind the sweat rolling off his face - for hours. When he occasionally puts on his chef's hat, his favorite creations are burgers and egg salad. When he orders from the White House menu, he typically asks for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Another culinary favorite is barbecue.

He has a ritual of bringing the morning newspapers and coffee to his wife in bed. He takes his dog, Barney, for walks (on the South Lawn) and loves hitting tennis balls for the dog to retrieve. At his Texas ranch, Barney accompanies Bush in the pickup en route to intelligence briefings.

Calls to friends

The president does not socialize much in Washington. But he fits in calls to friends in Texas and elsewhere. While leading meetings, he likes sucking on red-and-white peppermints.

Bush, a Methodist, attends church often - at St. John's Episcopal Church across Lafayette Park from the White House, at a chapel at Camp David or in one of several places of worship in Crawford, Texas.

A former baseball team owner, he watches sports on television when he can. (He was watching an NFL playoff game alone in January 2002 when he briefly choked on a pretzel and went downstairs to find a White House nurse to examine him.)

Bush skims newspapers each morning and keeps up with the sports pages. He has been known to read Sports Illustrated at the White House. He once spotted an ad in that magazine that included a photo of him with Edward M. Kennedy, the liberal Democratic lion of the Senate. The next time Kennedy visited the White House, Bush toted the magazine like an eager fan and, according to people familiar with the meeting, asked Kennedy if he would be kind enough to autograph it for him.

Long addicted to exercise, the president had to quit running after he hurt his knee this year. He picked up mountain biking, riding on weekends at a Secret Service facility in Beltsville, Md., or on his ranch.

"When you ride a bike and you get your heart rate up and you're out, after 30 or 40 minutes your mind tends to expand; it tends to relax," Bush told a Texas reporter who was invited on a ride this summer.

Beyond his personal habits, the election will be largely a referendum on the decisions the president has made.

On the campaign trail, he cultivates his image as a man with moral clarity who makes judgments based on what's right for America. He admonishes John Kerry for seeing shades of ambiguity in the war in Iraq, for suggesting that the decision on whether to back the war was a complicated one.

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