Republicans representative of their permanent establishment have recently and quietly sent emissaries to President Bush, like diplomats to a foreign ruler isolated in his forbidden city, to probe whether he could be persuaded to become politically flexible. These ambassadors were not connected to the elder Bush or his closest associate, former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, who was purged in 2005 from the president's foreign intelligence advisory board and scorned by the current president.
Scowcroft privately tells friends who ask if he could somehow help that Bush would never turn to him for advice. So, in one case, a Republican wise man, a prominent lawyer in Washington who had served in the Reagan White House, sought no appointments or favours and was thought to be unthreatening to Bush, gained an audience with him. In a gentle tone, he explained that many presidents had difficult second terms, but that by adapting their approaches they ended successfully, as President Reagan had.
Bush instantly replied with a vehement blast. He would not change. He would stay the course. He would not follow the polls. The Republican wise man tried again. Oh, no, he didn't mean anything about polls. But Bush fortified his wall of self-defensiveness and let fly with another heated riposte that he would not change.
Later Blumenthal talks about how the president demands flattery and that this is how Condi Rice and Karen Hughes have risen so high. The article ends this way:
The greater Bush's difficulties, the more precipitously he falls in the polls, the increased frequency with which he is beseeched by anxious Republicans and the harsher the realities, the tighter he clings to his self-image. Cheney and the others encourage his illusions, at least partly because the more intensely Bush embraces the heroic conception of himself, the more he resists change and the firmer their grip.
"It is an infallible rule," Machiavelli wrote in his chapter on flatterers, "that a prince who is not wise himself cannot be well advised, unless by chance he leaves himself entirely in the hands of one man who rules him in everything, and happens to be a very prudent man. In this case he may doubtless be well governed, but it would not last long, for that governor would in a short time deprive him of the state."
Well, that "governor" is undoubtedly Cheney. But Cheney's health is likely to keep him from depriving Bush of the state. But perhaps Blumenthal means that, in effect, Cheney has already deprived Bush of the state and that Bush is merely a figurehead.
Who knows how the rest of the presidential term will play out? I certainly don't but I can be confident that it won't be a pretty picture.