At one point there were twelve people crowded around our computer, trying to explain how the proposal worked. The economic advisers were disagreeing with each other.
There was total confusion. It was 5:30 p.m. The speech was in three and a half hours.
After finally getting the speech draft turned around and sent back to the teleprompter technicians, we trudged back to the Family Theater, where the president rehearsed. In the theater, the president was clearly confused about how the government would buy these securities. He repeated his belief that the government was going to “buy low and sell high,” and he still didn’t understand why we hadn’t put that into the speech like he’d asked us to. When it was explained to him that his concept of the bailout proposal wasn’t correct, the president was momentarily speechless. He threw up his hands in frustration.
“Why did I sign on to this proposal if I don’t understand what it does?” he asked.
The president was clearly frustrated with what was going on, but there was little he could do at this late hour. He went up to take a nap, saying he was beat. He looked it. I’d never seen him more exhausted. His hair was out of place and shaggy. His face looked drained and pale. Even more distressing, he was wearing Crocs. As I looked at him I thought to myself, how many more crises can one guy take?
This bit is also good for a bit of schadenfreude:
The president, like me, didn’t seem to be in love with any of the available options. He always believed Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee. “Wait till her fat keister is sitting at this desk,” he once said (except he didn’t say “keister”). He didn’t think much of Barack Obama. After one of Obama’s blistering speeches against the administration, the president had a very human reaction: He was ticked off. He came in one day to rehearse a speech, fuming. “This is a dangerous world,” he said for no apparent reason, “and this cat isn’t remotely qualified to handle it. This guy has no clue, I promise you.” He wound himself up even more. “You think I wasn’t qualified?” he said to no one in particular. “I was qualified.”And this is juicy too:
I was once in the Oval Office when the president was told a campaign event in Phoenix he was to attend with McCain suddenly had to be closed to the press. The president didn’t understand why when the whole purpose of holding the event had been to show Bush and McCain together so the press would stop asking why the two wouldn’t be seen together. If the event was closed to the press, the whole thing didn’t make sense.
“If he doesn’t want me to go, fine,” the president said. “I’ve got better things to do.”
Eventually, someone informed the president that the reason the event was closed was that McCain was having trouble getting a crowd. Bush was incredulous—and to the point. “He can’t get 500 people to show up for an event in his hometown?” he asked. No one said anything, and we went on to another topic. But the president couldn’t let the matter drop. “He couldn’t get 500 people? I could get that many people to turn out in Crawford.” He shook his head. “This is a five-spiral crash, boys.”
We tried to move on to something else. But the president wouldn’t let go. He was stuck on the Phoenix event. At one point, he looked off into space and said to no one in particular, “What is this—a cruel hoax?”