President Bush is routinely criticized for his lack of curiosity, but his visit to India this week has magnified just how little the president cares about foreign countries and their culture.
Just five years ago, former President Bill Clinton visited India, and spent a week touring the country, getting as much as he could out of a short trip. As Newsweek's Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey noted, Clinton impressed his hosts by "famously visiting rural villages and wowing Indian politicians during a speech before the Parliament."
Would the current president follow his predecessor's example? Not so much. Bush traveled to India, but his trip was "speedy and meticulously coordinated." In case there was any doubt, the visit demonstrated his interest -- or lack thereof -- in a fascinating country with a burgeoning culture, rich history, and diverse population.
Perhaps most notably, Bush even skipped seeing the Taj Mahal. When asked why he didn't make a point of seeing India's most famous monument, the president, always one to honor his era of responsibility, blamed the White House scheduler. Bush told local journalists, "If I were the scheduler, maybe I'd do things differently."
It was an explanation that strained credulity, and ignores the facts. Indeed, as Wolffe and Bailey noted, the president's aides have all-but begged Bush to "spend time on the softer, cultural side of his foreign travel." The president, however, can't be bothered.
I find it impossible to relate on a personal level, but Bush apparently isn't particularly interested in what foreign lands have to offer. He saw no museums, took in no cultural or historical landmarks, and had no meaningful interaction with the people of India. For that matter, the fact that he'd blame his aides is not only dishonest, it's cowardly -- he's arguably the most powerful man in the free world, but he won't visit the Taj Mahal unless his scheduler tells him it's okay? Does he expect people to believe this?
The India trip wasn't unusual in this regard. In November, Bush took a week-long trip through East Asia. As he barnstormed through Japan, South Korea, and China, the president "visited no museums, tried no restaurants, bought no souvenirs and made no effort to meet ordinary local people."
To be sure, there are security concerns. Before any president can wander into a store or a restaurant, precautions have to be taken, and that no doubt limits Bush's options. This does not, however, fully explain the president's lack of intellectual inquisitiveness. After all, Clinton spent a week in India exploring different parts of the county and engaging in conversation with as many regular people as he could.
The difference, it seems, is that Bush just doesn't care. Why this man asked to be a world leader, despite having little to no interest in the world itself, is something I will never understand.
Follow Steve Benen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stevebenen