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FEATURE Bush Ink: Manufacturing a President BY MICHAEL KING /t’s all over but the voting. At least that’s the story of the moment. Despite the fact that \(as of mid himself a candidate, the p. r. winds of inevitability driving the Bush for President campaign had already been eagerly inhaled by much of the press. In Austin, the hot air was embodied in the leads to two otherwise very different special Bush issues. The June Texas Monthly swooned, “The time has come to stop thinking about George W. Bush as a governor and start thinking about him as a president.” The May 28 Austin Chronicle newsweekly intoned, “He has outgrown mere governorhood.” Well, maybe. But it’s amusing to agree for once with dogged Bush rival Lamar Alexander, who recently told the San Francisco Chronicle, “The difference between being a good governor and president is approximately the difference between sandlot basketball and the N.B.A. finals.” \(Then again, Lamar Across the state, it has been much the same, with the editorial chorus gathering steam behind the Bush juggernaut, feeding the inertia of brand name and big money. While the formal endorsements are months away, the editorial writers have already begun to gush about Bush’s clear eyes, steady hand, and firm jaw \(or is it that journalists have fallen in love with the prospective boss of all bosses and want to start sucking up as quickly as possible. Under the headline, “Enough niceness to almost be detestable,”Houston Chronicle columnist Jane Ely recently complained at length that the problem with writing about her darling Governor is that there’s nothing bad you can say about him, because he’s just such a “quite nice and awfully likeable fellow.” The following day, Chronicle editorial writer Bill Coulter confessed that he’d been “thinking a lot lately” about a Bush presidency, and “it sounds like a pretty good idea…. George W. Bush strikes me as a regular guy and a straight shooter who is in touch with ordinary people.” This time the headline read, “‘President George W. Bush’ Sounds Good.” In the coming months, Houstonians shouldn’t look for too many hard-hitting Chronicle editorials about the Bush record. In Austin, the Monthly’s Bush issue made official what has been apparent for many months: Mike Levy’s mag is simply delighted to be the house organ of the George W. Bush campaign. “From the first,” the editors bragged in the intro to a celebratory Bush photo album that vividly recalled Life, Henry B. Luce, and 1955, “Texas Monthly has enjoyed unprecedented access to the nascent campaign, both onstage and off.” That is not the sort of thing journalists normally brag about particularly when the campaign in question has been known to deny access to reporters it deems “unfriendly.” Earlier this year, that was reportedly the fate of The New York Times’ Fox Butterfield, who got the door slammed in his face when he asked to talk to the Governor about his anti-crime policies. Apparently the press office was concerned Butterfield might not apply the correctly upbeat spin to the Governor’s law-and-order agenda. A Speaking into the megaphone Jana Birchum The Monthly is unlikely to raise such unseemly matters, let alone ask impertinent questions about them ergo, “unprecedented access.” Among Texas journalists, none have been quite so abject in their devotion to George the Second as the Monthly’s Paul Burka, who has eagerly assumed the position of the Mansion’s favorite reporter. No longer content simply to provide melodramatic conventional conservative agenda, Burka has now taken to reading the Guy’s every twitch and tic as a fateful portent. An innocent observer might suspect that Bush’s generally rote public delivery, leavened by boy-hearty but awkward joshing, evinces the thinness of his ideas as well as his grasp upon them. Not so, Burka explains from his insider’s perch: Bush speaks louder with body language than any politician I have ever seen. He slouches in a chair to convey utter confidence. He bobs his head when he talks as if to indicate agreement with his own words. He snaps his fingers to effect a transition in a conversation. And he talks with his eyes. They widen to show sincerity, light up as a prelude to a joke, narrow to show disapproval, and look upward to suggest irony usually to the accompaniment of a one-syllable guttural chuckle, a “heh” straight out of 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 25, 1999