- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

A writer and a filmmaker hope to convince Americans that their wartime president is still a frat boy with deep-fried tastes and a penchant for parties. Their efforts may backfire.
Set to debut within three days of each other in March, a new book and film will delve into the down-home underpinnings of President Bush, dragging out some old criticisms and steering Mr. Bush's dignified presidential image into lowbrow territory.
He's an affable dolt, say a New York Times reporter and the child of a powerful Democrat, who would have America believe that the cultural icons of the Bush presidency amount to a pile of Cheez Doodles, peanut-butter sandwiches, wisecracks and action flicks.
So what's wrong with cheese puffs? This is not necessarily a bad thing.
"These kind of observations only are going to hurt Mr. Bush in a place like Maureen Dowd's column," said Bruce Buchanan, a professor of presidential politics at the University of Texas, and himself a Yale man.
"The president aligns himself with regular folks, sometimes defiantly so. On occasion, he's had a chip on his shoulder after rejection by Eastern intellectual snobs," Mr. Buchanan said.
But Mr. Bush may be having the last laugh here.
"There are some tactics in this," Mr. Buchanan said. "With his good-old-boy image, Mr. Bush can deflect the attention away from his policies among those who might disagree with him."
Indeed. Mr. Bush spurns the hoity-toity life in favor of Cheez Doodles, Chuck Norris, Austin Powers and the musical "Cats," according to New York Times reporter Frank Bruni, who turned his 18 months following the president on the 2000 campaign trail into "Ambling Into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush." It goes on sale March 5.
The president, Mr. Bruni writes, is no more "with it" than seventysomething Bob Dole, though Mr. Bush is the Republican party's first baby boomer president. Mr. Bush also loses points with the author because he knows nothing about the cable TV comedy "Sex in the City," or actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the handsome lad who caused feminine hearts to flutter in the 1997 film "Titanic."
Mr. DiCaprio enjoyed favored status with President Clinton, who gave him a lengthy sit-down interview in 2000, elaborating on White House environmental policies. The interview aired on an ABC "Earth Day" special, to the annoyance of the network's correspondents.
Meanwhile, the daughter of House Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi has cobbled together her own take on Mr. Bush, breaking an agreement with Bush campaign officials and using material she had promised "was for personal use," according to this week's Time magazine.
It's going very public. Filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi has turned several hundred hours of behind-the-scenes campaign footage shot with a hand-held camera into an 89-minute movie she calls "Journeys With George." It will be screened publicly March 8 at an Austin, Texas, film festival.
The footage includes Mr. Bush mugging, partying, swigging an alcohol-free beer and kidding Miss Pelosi about her romance with a Newsweek writer, among other things. Amid a snowy photo-op, a Dallas Morning News reporter is heard to comment, "The only reason we are here is in case Bush comes out and slips on the ice and falls down."
Miss Pelosi, who named her business Purple Monkey Productions, has called the production a "home movie," and a "historical document of a totally different person in a totally different time." She does not claim to be an authority on Mr. Bush.
And in a quirky but revealing confluence, the Bruni book mentions the Pelosi movie.
Miss Pelosi "was known to dance little jigs or burst into song or get on the public address system in the front of a bus and pretend to be a cruise director," Mr. Bruni writes.
"She carried her own little personal video camera with her, turned it on and asked her colleagues offbeat questions, goading them into self-parodying soliloquies." Miss Pelosi was "the unrivaled queen of the pack when it came to self-amusement and consequences-be-damned diversion."
Meanwhile, the show will go on.
"If Americans were surprised that Bush at war was so different from the man they saw before Sept. 11, they are likely to be just as amazed now at the campaign trickster," noted Time magazine, adding that in the Pelosi film, the president appears "more Jonathan Winters than John Wayne."
Commentary aside, though, the Cheez Doodle factor can play very well in the public, no matter how an author or filmmaker might portray it.
"Cheez Doodles are fine," said Minneapolis-based image consultant John Blackshaw, who produced award-winning political campaigns for Ralph Nader, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat.
"Most voters look to those little details which humanize a politician. It worked well for Bush running against Al Gore, who definitely was not a guy who ate Cheez Doodles, though he tried to be. And it worked against him," Mr. Blackshaw said.

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