Bush Sweats It Out on the Road

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, May 12, 2004; 10:23 AM

Is it unseemly for President Bush to be gaily hawking his domestic policies on thinly-disguised campaign swings while the rest of Washington engages in grim, televised soul-searching about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners?

Mike Allen and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post this morning that "Bush and his staff face a predicament that in some ways parallels that of President Bill Clinton during the imbroglio over Monica S. Lewinsky that led to Clinton's impeachment. They are trying to get on with the business of government by pushing preordained messages when official Washington and much of the nation is focused on something else."

As a result, they write, "While Congress held another hearing about the abuse of detainees in Iraq and negotiated to view explicit photos and videos, President Bush flew into the South on Tuesday to joke with a mayor about filling potholes and to lavish praise on a junior high school with strong test scores.

"Bush spoke in a gymnasium so steamy that the locals fanned themselves with checkbooks, snapshots and paper cups all through his talk. The floor was slick with dripped sweat."

In spite of it all, they write, "Bush looked grateful for an excuse to get out of Washington."

Want to see Bush sweat? Here's an AFP photo.

Washington Post financial columnist Steven Pearlstein writes that Bush's approach to Iraq is "fundamentally a story about management failure and a corporate leadership style that the first MBA president and his crew of former CEOs brought to Washington. . . .

"Here's a little test: You are president of the United States and revelations about abuse of Iraqi prisoners has created the biggest crisis since Sept. 11, inflaming the Arab world, undercutting support at home and undermining our moral authority in the world. How do you spend the weekend?

"If you answered 'spend it at Camp David as planned, then drop in at the Pentagon on Monday to praise the defense secretary for doing a superb job,' you just flunked, along with George W. Bush."

Pearlstein is taking questions in a Live Online discussion this morning at 11 a.m. EDT.

The Message Left Behind

Here are Bush's remarks at Butterfield Junior High School in Van Buren, Ark., mostly centered around the "No Child Left Behind" act.

David E. Sanger and Jim Rutenberg write in the New York Times: "In what was billed as an official appearance that appeared to have more than a little mix of election-year politics -- Senator John Kerry comes to Arkansas on Wednesday -- Mr. Bush offered his most detailed defense yet of the law's effort to link federal aid to student performance. Democrats have said he has failed to finance the program as fully as his administration promised."

On the Beheading

Bush had no public comment on the videotaped beheading of American Nicholas Berg.

That was left to White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who was in Arkansas with President Bush, and who told reporters: "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. It shows the true nature of the enemies of freedom. They have no regard for the lives of innocent men, women and children. We will pursue those who are responsible and bring them to justice."

Presidential Analogies

John Harwood, in the Wall Street Journal's Capital Journal, asks if Bush is more like Richard Nixon in 1972, or Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Republicans look back to 1972.

"Mr. Nixon, like Mr. Bush, was reviled by Democratic opponents as he grappled with a deadly and draining foreign-policy crisis. Peace talks with the North Vietnamese held out the possibility that Vietnam losses would end soon, just as the scheduled June 30 transfer of power in Iraq holds the promise of diminished U.S. exposure there. And as polarizing a figure as Mr. Nixon was, he, like Mr. Bush, also was perceived as a leader of grit and strength."

By contrast: "Increasingly, Democrats are feeling at home in the contours of the 1980 presidential campaign -- with Mr. Bush playing the part of President Carter. As that year's campaign wore on, voters who at first rallied around the Democratic incumbent began to see him as hapless and helpless as Iranian revolutionaries held U.S. hostages in Tehran."

Those Wacky Democrats

In the last of three reports based on his new book, "Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry and the Bush Haters," Bill Sammon of the Washington Times looks at White House strategy during the mid-term elections of 2002.

The Democrats played right into Bush's hands by focusing on national security, Sammon writes, quoting senior adviser Karl Rove.

"'It's like playing a very bad gin rummy game where you play the wrong card every time,' said Mr. Rove, who attributed the Democrats' losing strategy to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. 'It's like he was constantly thinking: What can I feed Bush? What can I discard that would be helpful?

"'Every card he played, he played to our advantage,' Mr. Rove recalled. 'And we sat there going: Why is he doing this?'"

An interesting historical note: Sammon recalls that one of the best moments for Bush was when Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) went to Iraq and said in a television interview: "I think the president would mislead the American people." McDermott actually said the Iraqis might be telling the truth about not having weapons of mass destruction.

McDermott's comments were widely attacked as indefensible, obscene propaganda for Baghdad, and even Democratic officials distanced themselves from such obvious nonsense.

Bloggers on Bush Reaction

Josh Marshall, the Talking Point Memo blogger, questions the sincerity of Bush's reaction to the news of prison abuses.

"The president's stylized expressions of outrage and disgust are further revealed, I believe, as play-acting, like his feigned outrage over the outing of Valerie Plame by one of his top advisors and his pretended efforts to discover the culprits.

"More echoes of the search for the 'real killers'."

Blogger Andrew Sullivan fires back: "Puh-lease. Trying to implicate the president himself in the Abu Ghraib horrors, trying to claim that his 'disbelief and disgust' were somehow faked, seems to me to be excessive. To equate him with O.J. Simpson is a symptom of creeping Krugmanism." (That means sounding like New York Times op-ed columnist and Bush critic Paul Krugman.)

Cheney Heart Watch

The Associated Press reports: "Vice President Dick Cheney's office said he received good news Tuesday during his annual heart checkup, with a pacemaker detecting no irregular heartbeat."

Cheney did a phoner with Tony Snow of Fox News.

AFP reports that "Cheney said that a 'fundamental breakdown' had led to the Iraqi prison abuse by US troops but defended the military response to the scandal."

Cheney also expressed no little contempt for the press.


"I think it's also important to point out, though, that these abuses were uncovered by the military. They're being investigated by the military. This isn't something the press uncovered," he said.

Then, asked if he thought more of the pictures of abuse should be made public:

"I'd say there are a lot of equities involved here besides just satisfying the desires of the press that want to have more pictures to print. . . . And it's not just a matter of, sort of whetting people's appetites to see sensational stuff here."

Syria Watch

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post: "Under pressure from Congress, President Bush slapped sanctions on Syria yesterday for supporting terrorism and interfering with U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq."

First Lady Watch

Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post: "In a temporary break from a barrage of commercials slamming Sen. John F. Kerry, President Bush's campaign is rolling out a television and Internet ad campaign today that includes the first lady stressing the importance of education."

Marc Santora writes in the New York Times: "Mixing piety with Republican politics, Gov. George E. Pataki welcomed Laura Bush as the guest of honor at his annual prayer breakfast on Tuesday, using the occasion to praise both God and the president."

Poll Watch

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, explains in a New York Times op-ed how it is that Sen. John F. Kerry's campaign is not benefiting from the continued slide in Bush's job-approval ratings.

"The real reason that Mr. Kerry is making so little progress is that voters are now focused almost exclusively on the president. This is typical: as an election approaches, voters first decide whether the incumbent deserves re-election; only later do they think about whether it is worth taking a chance on the challenger. There is no reason to expect a one-to-one relationship between public disaffection with the incumbent and an immediate surge in public support for his challenger."

Greenspan Watch

Tim Ahmann writes for Reuters: "With fewer than six weeks left in Alan Greenspan's term at the helm of the U.S. Federal Reserve, some analysts are wondering why President George W. Bush has not yet renominated the 78-year-old central banker."

Calling All Bush Fans

JR Ross of the Associated Press writes from Wisconsin: "Faced with a scarcity of letters praising the president, a newspaper in a Republican-leaning district appealed for pro-Bush letters, then backed off the request Tuesday amid complaints of blatant politics."

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