What if Oliver Stone had waited to do his George W. Bush film W. after the presidency had ended? What if he asked me for my thoughts about the apparent split between Bush and Dick Cheney over a pardon of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby—like what happened, what did it mean, how might it be seen? When I did, in fact, consult with Oliver on Nixon, I often did so by submitting suggested inserts for his evolving script, remembering Oliver’s admonishment that he was not making a documentary but rather a dramatization to make his points. So that is what I have done here:
INT.—THE WHITE HOUSE/SMALL ROOM OFF OVAL OFC—DAY
A white-jacketed waiter clears the lunch table and leaves. Vice President Cheney is seated in a wheelchair, while the attention-deficit-disordered President Bush is on his feet, bouncing around, and stretching his leg muscles over his chair seat. We pick up on the conversation as the camera opens on the scene.
. . . and now I can bench press over three hundred pounds. [Pause as Bush stretches.] Anything else, big guy? It’s our last lunch here, so hit me.
You’ve not responded to my memo on Scooter Libby. I think—
Whooooe. Let’s not go there big fella. I told you when I commuted Scooter, keeping his sorry ass out of jail, that I wouldn’t pardon him. I haven’t changed my mind. That was your fucked-up scheme that backfired. [Shaking his head with the memory.] My daddy really chewed my ass out for revealing a CIA covert agent. You went too far, big guy. Strikes me, Scooter’s such a piss-poor liar you’re lucky ole Fitz, Fitz, what-ever-the-hell-his-name-is, didn’t nail your ass too.
Scooter wants his life back, and I—
Listen Dick, I can understand why a guy named “Scooter” was scared shitless about going to the big house. That’s why I agreed to commute him, but—
We hear a scratching, and barking, at the window of the French doors leading into the office from the South Lawn. It interrupts the president, who stops talking, goes to the door, and lets First Pooch Barney inside. Bush waves to the groundskeeper.
(shouting to the groundskeeper; then speaking caringly to Barney)
I’ll take him up to the Residence. Thanks, Ben.
Hey, little man, get on in here before you freeze your itty bitty butt.
Barney jumps in and starts sniffing about the office, as the conversation resumes.
George, the problem is that Libby might turn on us. He knows about everything. He could—
I don’t give a rat’s ass what he knows for he’s your problem not mine. I told you when this whole thing blew up, that you were responsible for Scooter’s care and feeding, not me. His mumbling and your bumbling were dangerous. Ole Fitzy wanted to put Karl’s ass in jail, but unlike Scooter, Karl knows how to take care of such matters.
(flushing with anger, and speaking with a snarl and tone he has never used with Bush)
Do you really want to end this presidency on this note, George?
Are you threatening me? [Cheney is silent, but his glare speaks for itself.] You are making a big mistake, big guy. [Bush is strutting about the small office now.] Big mistake. Let me tell you something. My little lady, Miss Laura, has been keeping a diary. She started it the day we first arrived here. She told me when she makes the last entry, January 20th, we’ll have been here 2920 days. Can you believe that: 2920 days, and 2920 diary entries. My lady takes care of her man.
Bush lets this sink in as he goes back to the lunch table and gulps down water from a glass on the table. He belches, and then continues.
(continuing, pleased with himself)
Let me tell you about Laura’s diary. She said after I was elected that when we got here at the White House, she wanted me to tell her every night what was most worrying me that day, and why. And I did just that. And big fellow, you have been one of my biggest worries, so she probably has a couple of thousand entries about you. So don’t threaten—
(exploding and getting out of the wheelchair, which he pushes away, and it hits Barney, who sequels and yelps)
Jesus Christ, George, your dog just pissed on my leg!
The president could not care less about Cheney, rather he is very concerned with Barney, who he finds and picks up in his arms. He then looks at Cheney, who is using a napkin to dry his leg. Bush studies this for a moment, and then starts to laugh. Indeed, he finds it so funny he can’t stop laughing, and convulses on to a small sofa in the office, wiping tears from his eyes with one hand, and holding Barney with the other.
Cheney is being wheeled from the small office. He is beet-red and silent. Bush and Barney are still on the sofa, with Bush wiping away a last few tears of laughter.
Well, done, little guy. Lets go see Miss Laura. [Placing Barney on the floor and getting up, he asks his small friend:] You think he believed that story about the diary?
(with enthusiastic tale wiggles)
Bark, bark, bark.
John W. Dean, former Nixon White House counsel, has written ten books, including Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Braches, and is working on his next.