Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Patrick Fitzgerald Charms and Awes

by Dr. Teresa Whitehurst

"But what we need to also show the world is that we can also apply the same safeguards to all our citizens, including high officials. Much as they must be bound by the law, they must follow the same rules."
-- Patrick Fitzgerald, Editor and Publisher, 10/28/05

For months now I've been recording White House press briefings, supposedly for later nonverbal and linguistic analysis of the Scott McClellan Stonewall Show. Trouble is, I never seem to have the stomach to replay his well-rehearsed responses to any comment or question that isn't flattering to his boss. Last Monday's Stonewall Show was particularly difficult to watch, with Scott lecturing elder journalists one minute, repeating the same phrases in a panicked defense-mode the next. The untelevised "press gaggle" was no better: It included most of the usual gagged "answers" to journalists' questions:

  • "The policy of this White House is not to comment on..."
  • "I won't speculate on that"
  • "We just need to let the [fill in the blank] process work"
  • "We just need to let Mr. [fill in the blank] do his job"
  • "The President has cooperated fully with this investigation from the beginning. He directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation. We will continue to cooperate..."
  • "This is a serious investigation. At the same time, all of us recognize the importance of the work we're trying to accomplish on behalf of the American people. And we are going to remain focused on the priorities that the American people..."

And so it was that I sat, recorder at the ready, expecting the heretofore invisible special prosecutor, a Mr. Patrick Fitzgerald, to give the same kind of press conference we've become accustomed to: stonewalling, haughty, and grim. As he came to the podium I waited for the "we've concluded that there's been no wrongdoing, and applaud the White House for cooperating fully" opening line, then the impatient Q & A period.

Sipping forlornly on a cup of espresso, I was startled as Mr. "Pat" Fitzgerald began speaking. Maybe I've seen one too many episodes of "The Practice", but this guy was impressive: sharp, fast, and unapologetically intelligent.

I bolted upright from my usual Bush-induced slump on the couch. Mr. Fitzgerald was standing there in front of the White House logo, but Mr. Prosecutor wasn't sticking to the Bush administration's eternal "all's well, so shut up" script!

Furthermore, his nonverbal behavior, while revealing a touch of nervous and probably caffeinated buzz, signaled the kind of quietly confident masculinity I haven't seen in politics for years. He said what he had to say without mind-numbing repetition. He kept to the facts, never quoting a single Bible verse or flattering the wonder-working power of the American people. His facial expression and gestures weren't stiff, imperious or defensive.

Unlike Mr. President, Mr. Prosecutor didn't seem to be struggling with self-control. Mr. Fitzgerald never displayed Mr. Bush's odd grimacing, irregular breathing or agitated body movements during Q & A sessions. When questioned or challenged, Mr. Bush appears perilously close to laughing hysterically, screaming with rage, knocking his podium onto the press pool, or all three at once.

In contrast to Bush, McClellan, Rumsfeld and others in this Dobsonion "Dare to Discipline" administration, Fitzpatrick didn't treat the journalists assembled before him like naughty children. In fact, he empathized with their frustration and with viewers' curiosity, explaining why he couldn't answer certain questions:

"I know that people want to know whatever it is that we know, and they're probably sitting at home with the TV thinking, I want to jump through the TV, grab him by his collar and tell him to tell us everything they figured out over the last two years. We just can't do that. It's not because we enjoy holding back information from you; that's the law."
-- "A Prosecutor's Arresting Performance," NYTimes, 10/29/05

Real Men Love the Truth

"In any turmoil, television seeks a hero. Stepping above the political wrangling, Mr. Fitzgerald presented himself to viewers as a righteous, homespun voice of reason, using baseball metaphors to explain his investigation and the flag to defend it...Standing at a lectern at the Justice Department, wearing a blue shirt and red tie, a film of sweat on his forehead, Mr. Fitzgerald looked more like a Jimmy Stewart character: Mr. Fitzgerald goes to Washington."
-- "A Prosecutor's Arresting Performance," NYTimes, 10/29/05

Most shocking of all was the question and answer period: Mr. Fitzgerald had no trouble thinking on his feet. He clearly knew his stuff, and when someone asked him a question, by golly he answered it, or apologized if he couldn't!

I had to pinch myself. This kind of thing -- answering rather than deflecting questions -- hasn't happened at press conferences since Bush and his cronies took over the White House, the Pentagon, the Supreme Court, and all those national agencies we used to consider our own.

Mr. Fitzgerald added to his charm when he downplayed his personal importance, demurring that he has a full-time job waiting and admitting that he needs to catch up on his sleep. Self-effacing humor is something we haven't seen for ages.

The closest Bush has come to admitting his limitations in a humorous way was when he pranced around his comfy office looking for Saddam Hussein's nonexistent WMD, peeking under tables and chairs in that infamous "funny" slide presentation last year. False reasons for sending Americans to be maimed and killed in a war that's taken the lives of tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children -- now there's something you don't see many people joking about.

Speaking as a woman, I was heartened to see, that secure masculinity, like chivalry, is not dead. All those peevish white men in the White House -- grumpy old Rumsfeld, soft round Rove, sneering Cheney, blustery Bush -- have one thing in common: Insecure masculinity, which is brittle and must constantly be defended. Hence they've appealed very successfully to insecure, resentful men, and are promoted with desperate zeal by fellow armchair warriors like Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, James Dobson and Bill O'Reilly.

Mr. Fitzgerald didn't need to grimace, posture, or bluster -- he just told it like it was. However this investigation ends, I'm sure I wasn't the only woman in America who was awed and charmed as Mr. Fitzgerald, smiling good-naturedly, walked away from the podium. A good man, as the Bush administration has amply demonstrated, is hard to find.

* * *

Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist, author of Jesus on Parenting: 10 Essential Principles That Will Transform Your Family (2004) and coauthor of The Nonviolent Christian Parent (2004). She offers parenting workshops, holds discussion groups on Nonviolent Christianity, and writes the column, "Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldn't Have to Choose Just One" as seen on her website.



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