BOLTEN, HADLEY, AND LINGERING CONFUSION…. White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley chatted with the Washington Post‘s Michael Abramowitz at some length last week, reflecting on their eight years of service with George W. Bush. As they get ready to depart, I can’t help but notice how confused they still are.

Bolten said another of his goals when he took over was to try to get the country to see the likable boss he and other aides saw in private, convinced that would boost Bush’s popularity. “I failed miserably,” he conceded. “Maybe in the beginning of the sixth year of a presidency, that’s a quixotic task…. But everybody who has actual personal exposure to the president, almost everybody, appreciates what a good leader he is, how smart he is and, especially, how humane he is.”

Hadley invoked Bush’s 2000 campaign theme in summing up the president’s personal qualities. “He has got this great compassion which was not just a slogan, ‘compassionate conservative.’ It is who he is. It is one of the great things he brought to this office,” Hadley concluded. “This is the one thing that just drives me crazy, that somehow this is an arrogant administration, an arrogant president running an arrogant policy. This guy — one thing he is not is arrogant.”


Bolten honestly seems to believe that if we, as a country, would only get to know Bush, we’d appreciate his greatness. He’d be more popular, the theory goes, if we hung out with him.

While it’s true that the president’s personal ratings have deteriorated, I think it’s safe to say Bush’s public support tanked after his policies proved to be disastrous, which in turn undermined Americans’ opinions of his personal qualities. “Personal exposure” to Bush is irrelevant when Americans are overwhelmed by the failure of the president’s economic, foreign, domestic, and constitutional policy.

Sure, Bush’s smug dishonesty and hapless ignorance contributed to his unpopularity, but the extent to which Americans learn about “how humane he is” has no bearing on a simple reality — the public has noticed over the course of eight years that Bush’s policies don’t work.

As for Hadley’s insistence that Bush really, truly is not “arrogant,” I’m afraid it comes down to a straightforward question. Who are you going to believe? Hadley or your lying eyes?

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.