Sunday, February 8, 2004
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Bush meets the press
I caught most of Bush's Meet the Press appearance, and was neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed. Let's face it -- this is not his best format, and there were definitely a few moments when I winced. That said, it was a pretty competent performance. Glenn Reynolds has a reaction roundup, but I find it telling that both Josh Marshall and Brad DeLong grudgingly concede that Bush did OK. [UPDATE/CORRECTION: Brad doesn't think Bush did well as much as Russert did poorly; Josh, after seeing the whole thing, thinks "he and his advisors made a mistake scheduling this interview."
Two things struck me overall. First, the word that kept ringing in my ears was "context." Bush used it six times during the hour. I don't think that's an accident -- he's trying to frame his decision-making to the voters. His response to the "no WMD" question is twofold -- 1) We're better off without Saddam anyway; 2) In context, the intelligence looked solid and sensible. Whether this works remains to be seen.
Second, I found his response to Russert's last question, "Biggest issues in the upcoming campaign?" to be revealing:
First response was foreign policy. Despite the WMD imbroglio, that's still Bush's comparative strength compared to a Democratic challenger.
Which leads to an intriguing paradox. The more successful Bush's foreign policy is, the more secure Americans will feel, and the more the economy will become issue #1 -- which could put Bush at a disadvantage. The less successful Bush's foreign policy is, the less secure Americans will feel, and the more national security becomes issue #1 -- which could put Bush at an advantage.
Obviously, if the security situation collapses, Bush will lose. But the overall relationship between Bush's foreign policy and Bush's political standing is decidedly nonlinear.
UPDATE: David Adesnik has the best summary analysis I've seen.posted by Dan on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM
As the son of a journalist, I found myself more interested in the way Russert conducted the interview than in Bush's responses, which were really pretty predictable. I have to say, Russert's performance was mixed at best. His questions hit all the major issues, but he almost invariably took a pass on the obvious follow-ups, which is where the substance of a good interview really is. Moreover, despite spending a huge chunk of the time on the WMD/Intel issue, he never once mentioned the OSP, Feith, the INC exiles, etc., which is where many people think the bulk of the intelligence failure originated. Maybe I'm just being wonky, but it seemed like a pretty superficial interview, which is a big disappointment, given the rarity of an hour-long Presidential sit down like this.
Well, yes, Dan. Bush's "best format" is a campaign fundraiser where he can read a text written entirely by someone else to a friendly audience.
What I noticed on Meet the Press is that he seemed at pains to exercise "message discipline," meaning that he responded to related questions with slight variations of a substantively identical answer. I noticed during the 2000 New York Senate campaign that Hillary Clinton excelled at that very thing. An interesting coincidence, that.
I also noticed that Tim Russert appears to have been supplied with research only on questions related to Iraq (I understand that with the time demands of being made up for television there is no question of a major star like Russert doing any research of his own). He let pass without comment Bush's offensive dissembling about cutting the deficit in half in five years, never mentioned the out-year cost of making permanent Bush's tax cuts on upper-income earners, and let Bush's claim that he'd released all records related to his National Guard service during the 2000 campaign pass as well.
On the whole I'd say Bush did better than Russert did. But then Russert was probably worried that next time Bush would pass on his show and go on Face the Nation instead.posted by: Zathras on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
Um, Josh hasn't seen the whole Bush interview, and hence not commented on the whole thing. My take on Brad was that he thought it was horrendous. This also seems to be the emerging picture from other conservatives (see Andrew Sullivan) and the wingnuts (the national review).
I didn't see it, but I read the transcript. And its basically one evasive answer after another. Perhaps it sounded better on TV, but reading it, it sounded awful. When the answers aren't evasive, they are flat outright lies. Even the wingnuts concede that.
Givem all of that, how do you think this is a competent performance at all?posted by: Nadeem Riaz on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
Drezner raises an interesting point that was argued by Bruce Reed in a WaPO editorial a while back: that a quiet campaign season on the national security front ultimately benefits the Democrats. In general, that's probably true, but the no WMD thing may have legs and thus work against Bush.posted by: praktike on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
You don't know what the hell you're talking about. In order for you to know if anything was evasive or an outright lie means that you'd have to know what the truth is to begin with which you obviously don't. Try thinking for yourself once in a while. You sound like another parrot for the Democratic Party. Nadeem want a cracker?posted by: Bill on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
I am far from a fan of Bush, but I thought he did a decent job. Of course I am starting with a belief that he has some very tough questions to answer, and just to survive an interview like that is an acheivement.
Of course I would have liked to hear a few more tough follow-up questions and challenges to the President, but he is the President, it is the Oval Office, and I don't think it is really appropriate to ask him if he is a liar in that setting.
One question I do have, and I think most of the readership here is in a better position to answer this then me, is how will the CATO Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and Rush Limbaugh respond to being called "wrong" by the President. I may not agree with these institutions, but I assume that most of them to believe in what they say. Are they going to just sit down when the President says that all their hard work and beliefs are wrong. This is part of his base.
What do people think will be the reaction to these comments? How do you think the Bush camp will try to paper this over during the inevitable phone calls to the White House tomorrow morning? Most critics seem to be focusing on Iraq, terrorism, and the National Guard, but on those isses the political battle lines are drawn. What will the reaction be to Bush biting at his base?posted by: Rich on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
Oh no no no no no. Let's be clear: Just because Russert did not cover himself in glory does not mean that Bush did OK. Bush's performance this time--as always--left me extraordinarily embarrassed that he is our president. As Carlyle Group Managing Director David Rubenstein says, he's not among the top 25 million people in America when we rank Americans by who ought to be president.
The fact that Russert failed to put him away--which he could have done with a few follow-ups if Russert had been better briefed--does not mean that Bush's performance helped or should have helped convince anyone that this is a guy who is qualified to be the president of the United States of America.posted by: Brad DeLong on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
"The more successful Bush's foreign policy is, the more secure Americans will feel..."
If by successful you mean the ability to pursue those policies concocted by his advisors, I would suggest that premise to be pretty uncertain.
I agree that it was not one of his stellar performances. But the money quote was indeed what the number one campaign issue is going to be."Who can properly use American power in a way to make the world a better place, and who understands that the true strength of this country is the hearts and souls of the American citizens, who understands times are changing and how best to have policy reflect those times." Here, he hit a Grand Slam. Kerry has no vision close to that. And also, don't forget- we may still find WMDs in Iraq (or Syria).posted by: Michael Kazmac on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
If you posted in this in response to an SAT question: what is the theme in Brad DeLong's essay, I'd say you wouldn't get any credit....
If you posted this in response to a Might Wurlitzer question: how can we spin Brad DeLong's essay, I'd say you would get full credit and the job.
Kerist-sakes Dan, did any of your Ph.D. courses include ethics or morality? Does your professional society have a code of ethics? I'd be interested if you would post them....posted by: anne.elk on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
You might want to check in again with Josh Marshall's reaction to Bush's interview. As you found his initial response telling, I find his fuller response telling.posted by: Jeff L. on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
I find it rather reassuring that Brad DeLong and Josh Marshall hated it.posted by: Charlie on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
Bill: It's not just me or the democratic party. The Left & Right are saying he's lying. Don't believe me, believe Rush, Cato, or The Heritage foundation. Forget the war in Iraq, Bush's outright lied several times on his horrendous budget. So many things, so little time.
posted by: Nadeem Riaz on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
“Well, yes, Dan. Bush's "best format" is a campaign fundraiser where he can read a text written entirely by someone else to a friendly audience.”
You’re right. Indeed, President George W. Bush is not fast on his feet. He also is not as naturally talented as our previous national leader, Bill Clinton. I strongly suspect that the disgraced and morally challenged Clinton is a bit more intelligent. Still, President Bush possesses the right instincts and is a man of virtue. The Democrats have absolutely no one, now that Senator Joseph Lieberman has dropped out the race, who is a worthy challenger. President Bush clearly understands the threat of radical Islamism. Democrats like Kerry, Dean, and Edwards don’t have a clue.
“Which leads to an intriguing paradox. The more successful Bush's foreign policy is, the more secure Americans will feel, and the more the economy will become issue #1 -- which could put Bush at a disadvantage.”
Regretfully, many Americans wish to delude themselves that the war is not a top priority. Deep in their guts, some even think that it is a manufactured event to help Vice President Cheney's buddies at Halliburton to make a lot of money! One only wishes that this truly was the case. Instead, we will likely be dealing with these terrorists for many years into the future.posted by: David Thomson on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
Nadeem, Josh, Brad and ilk (or elk, as it were);
While I'm not exactly in Thomson's orbit, where even the suggestion that someone might think "Hey, I'm not George Bush, and I think I'd do a better job at being president" elicits ire; I am distressed that you do not appear to grasp that when Dave, and W and the good 'wingnuts' at the Review and Standard say "We are a nation at war", they mean that this republic of ours is the expression of an idea that the world had not previously seen, and that others have wished, for some time, to destroy.
Why do you find it so hard to accept that?
You know what would be great? If you'd get out from behind your keyboards for a week, and join some of us on the front lines. There really is nothing like the thrill of the smile on some kids face when we roll through town and they see us for what we are - the concrete, tangible product of that idea. Sent there by a man with a plan.
Oh, hey - maybe *that's* why you don't... nevermind.
"Obviously, if the security situation collapses, Bush will lose."
Not obvious to me. Another 9/11 attack, the collapse of Iraq into civil war, it is not inconceivable that the American people will fall back on the desire for a tough daddy who has proven he will go out there and shoot stuff.posted by: bob mcmanus on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
I stayed up to watch the 1 a.m. rerun on CNBC. I thought GWB acquited himself fairly well. Did he answer the question that that he wanted to answer, rather than the question that was asked. Yes, just like every other politician I have ever heard interviewed.
Was Russert a good interviewer? I thought not. but not for the reasons tha Delong and other D partisans did. They thought that Russert wasn't tough enough, did not ask enough follow up questions. Russert spent the entire first segment of the show beating the WMD subject to death. A lawyer conducting a cross examination would spend an entire morning laying a foundation for the examination and an entire afternoon following up. Russert had about 12 minutes for each of 4 segments, and he did the best he could in that framwork to follow up.
My own take was that Russert was tough and excessively partisan in his questioning. For example, when asking about the economy, Russert put up a list of numbers at 12/01 and 12/03 such as unemployment. The chart showed the numbers at those dates and the % change. It did not show the course of the metric over the three years. Furthermore the chart did not show positive metrics.posted by: Robert Schwartz on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
Rich's question was "...how will the CATO Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and Rush Limbaugh respond to being called "wrong" by the President?" It's a good one.
For what it's worth, I think there are individual conservatives in prominent institutions who will bridle at being called "wrong" on specific topics about which they feel, often correctly, they know more than the President does. Limbaugh is likely to bridle at being called wrong about anything for any reason, just as a matter of ego.
Sadly, though, most conservatives -- and certainly most conservatives in Washington -- still define themselves more by what (or whom) they are against than by what they are for: the press, the liberals, the trial lawyers, the feminists. As long as they think Bush is against the same things they are, he'll be their guy, and their disagreements with him won't amount to more than ineffectual grumbling.posted by: Zathras on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
William Saletan has a good take on Slate of Bush's Platonic vision of reality.
Bush has certain convictions and when facts don't support those convictions, it doesn't matter because the Platonic reality of those convictions lets him overcome facts which argue against his confictions.posted by: aghast on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
“While I'm not exactly in Thomson's orbit, where even the suggestion that someone might think "Hey, I'm not George Bush, and I think I'd do a better job at being president" elicits ire...”
I do not think that President Bush is the best choice to be our national leader. But he definitely is the most pragmatic option for 2004. We live in the real world and not an utopian paradise. One cuts the best deal that they can.posted by: David Thomson on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
Hmm. I'm tryin' to decide if I give a sh#t what Josh at TPM thinks about the Bush interview.
Well I know he thinks the Bush"AWOL" story is a big deal. Wonder if he voted against Clinton because of HIS war record?
Maybe if someone gets back to me with an answer to that question it'll help me decide. Ya think?
posted by: Rocketman on 02.08.04 at 09:41 PM [permalink]
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