By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, October 21, 2008; 1:34 PM
After a closed-door meeting with a small group of central Louisiana business leaders yesterday, President Bush didn't just give the usual public pep talk about the economy. He also thanked people for praying for him.
What was that about? Well, it turns out that while most Americans these days are praying for the economy to turn around, or praying for Bush to leave, people in central Louisiana -- or at least the ones who get invited to meet with him -- are still praying for the president.
Within moments of stepping off Air Force One in Alexandria, Bush got pulled into an impromptu prayer circle. Greg Hilburn writes in the Monroe, La., News-Star that Bush met briefly with James Christopher Allums, an 11-year-old boy who's fighting a rare, possibly terminal, bone disease called Fanconi anemia.
His parents, Ellen and Chris Allums, "who home-school their son to keep his exposure to illness at a minimum, also prayed with Bush at the airport," Hilburn writes.
"'We asked him if we could pray for him, and he said yes,' Chris said. 'He was so down to earth. He looked into your eyes, and you knew that he was interested.'"
Abbey Brown, David Dinsmore and Leigh Gentry write for the Alexandria, La., Town Talk that one of the members of the prayer circle "said he placed an encouraging hand on Bush's shoulder."
You can see the prayer circle in this video from the Town Talk Web site.
Then it was off to downtown Alexandria for a meeting at the local Chamber of Commerce office, with bankers and local business leaders selected by the White House from a list of chamber members.
I spoke to several participants this morning, and they told me that after Bush spoke for a while, he asked the people around the table to introduce themselves. When Bush came to Jerome Vascocu, the president and CEO of Richland State Bank, the banker didn't just talk about the economy.
"I expressed it to him that I daily pray for him and his wife, and the load that they carry," Vascocu told me. "I am a believer, and I have experienced the benefit of prayer, and I just wanted him to know that I was praying for him."
Vascocu said Bush seemed grateful and "expressed his own belief in prayer and how much it has sustained him through difficult times -- and he certainly has had his share." Vascocu quickly clarified about that last part: "He didn't say that, I'm saying that."
All that explains why Bush ended his public comments with some warm words. After a short disquisition about the rationale behind his massive Wall Street bailout, he concluded: "I'm very fond of this part of the country. It's not that far away from my home state. And so, appreciate your time. Appreciate the good folks in this part of the world. I do want to thank all those who have said prayers for me and Laura during our presidency. It's meant an awful lot. Thank you all."
Bush has repeatedly spoken in the past about feeling lifted up by the prayers of ordinary Americans. As I reported in my December 5, 2006, column, Bush told Fox News's Brit Hume: "Laura and I are sustained by the prayers of millions of people. That's hard for some to, you know, I guess, chew on. . . . [T]he load is not heavy, I guess is the best way to describe it. Look, somebody said to me, prove it. I said you can't prove it. All I can tell you is I feel it. And it's a remarkable country when millions pray for me and Laura. So therefore I'm able to say to people, that this is a joyful experience, not a painful experience. And yeah it's tough, but that's okay. It's tough times."On the Economy
On the ostensible topic of the day, Holly Rosenkrantz writes for Bloomberg that Bush "said the sense of 'near-panic' about the country's financial crisis is easing because Americans are seeing the impact of measures taken by the federal government.
"'I have heard that people's attitudes are beginning to change from a period of intense concerns and, I would call it, near-panic, to being more relaxed,' Bush said after meeting with local bankers and business leaders in Alexandria, Louisiana.
"People are 'beginning to see the effects of changes in the liquidity that are being pumped into the system,' he said."
Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "Bush is on a nearly daily campaign to remind the nation that his government is working to fix the financial crisis. As people fret about their rising bills and plummeting retirement savings, Bush is urging patience. He says it will take time for credit to flow freely again.
"He reiterated why a free-market advocate like himself would support massive government intervention. 'The answer is because I was deeply concerned about a financial crisis becoming so profound, so acute that it hurt the people, small business owners here' in Alexandria and other local communities.
"Bush said community banks such as the one in central Louisiana are strong, and they should not be lumped in with the giant financial institutions that have gone under.
"In the midst of a frantic election season, Bush has tried to retain a sense of in-charge leadership during the crisis. He has now spoken about the economic meltdown on 28 of the last 33 days, from formal speeches to radio addresses to the off-the-cuff comments like Monday's."Stimulus Turnaround
Ryan J. Donmoyer and Scott Lanman write for Bloomberg: "Lawmakers and officials moved toward forging a second fiscal stimulus bill after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke endorsed the idea and the Bush administration dropped its opposition. . . .
"Bernanke warned legislators yesterday the credit crunch is 'hitting home,' with Americans unable to get auto loans and companies denied cash, and recommended measures to help borrowers. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said President George W. Bush was 'open to the idea' of a new stimulus."
Johanna Neuman blogs for the Los Angeles Times that the White House has come a long way since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi originally suggested "that Congress should get to work on a second stimulus package that would include up to $150 billion in federal spending on unemployment benefits, food stamps, highway-construction projects and aid to cash-strapped state governments.
"To hear the White House tell it, you'd think she was proposing, well, socialism or something. Only last Thursday, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said the administration 'didn't think' the Democrats' proposals to spur spending 'would help bring money into the economy.'
"But today, two weeks out from an election that some see as a referendum on George W. Bush's handling of the economy, the White House has a new tune."
Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times: "Democratic leaders would like to pass a spending bill in a lame-duck session of Congress immediately after the elections on Nov. 4. But that would depend on whether Mr. Bush was willing to agree on a deal. If Democrats cannot prevent Mr. Bush from vetoing a bill, they will most likely wait until the next president takes office in January.
"To draw in the White House as well as Republican lawmakers, Democrats are casting around for measures that Mr. Bush has wanted. One possible inducement could be passing a long-stalled free-trade agreement with Colombia. Republicans are also pushing for additional tax cuts, and there might be ground for agreement on that front."McCain's Bush Problem
Michael Abramowitz and Michael D. Shear write in The Washington Post: "As he struggles to pull his campaign out from beneath the shadow of a president whose approval ratings have reached historic lows, McCain is offering some of his toughest criticism of the Bush White House. In recent weeks, he has focused his message on the administration's handling of the nation's financial crisis, suggesting that the Treasury Department has been more interested in 'bailing out the banks' than helping struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. . . .
"At virtually every campaign stop, McCain is reprising a line he used last Wednesday in his final debate with Sen. Barack Obama: ' I am not George Bush.' . . .
"The new rhetoric has drawn roars of applause at some campaign stops and represents a tacit acknowledgment that McCain has not distanced himself sufficiently from the administration in his bid. One senior adviser said the campaign had to do something to counteract the Obama operation's decision to spend 'tens of millions of dollars pushing' the idea that McCain is a virtual clone of Bush."
And then, of course, there's the persistent reality that on the key issues of our time -- the economy, the war in Iraq -- McCain's policies are essentially in line with Bush's.
So how is this new "not-Bush" campaign going over with the voters?
Abramowitz and Shear note the data from a new Washingotn Post poll: "McCain has made progress in distancing himself from the president. Among independents, 54 percent now see the senator as offering a new direction, up from 44 percent before the third presidential debate, where he introduced his new language on Bush.
"Among all likely voters, the percentage associating McCain with Bush is less than 50 percent for the first time, albeit barely, at 49 percent." 48 percent say he would set a new direction.
But a new New York Times/CBS poll, also taken in the last few days, shows that 60 percent say McCain would continue Bush's policies, compared to 32 percent who say he would change course.
Why such a big difference? Could it be the wording? The Post asks whether McCain would "mainly lead the country in a new direction, or mainly continue in George W. Bush's direction." The Times asks whether he would "generally continue George W. Bush's policies, or not."Endorsement Watch
I wrote in yesterday's column about the avalanche of newspaper endorsements for Obama, and how many of them define a successful presidency as precisely the opposite of the current one. The trend continues.
The Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board writes: "If America is going to fight its way out of a worldwide economic crisis that has people fearful of losing not only their homes but also their jobs, fearful of unending war, then it must have better leadership than it has had the last eight years.
"There are those who say this election should not be a referendum on the incumbent. But the presidency of George W. Bush colors everything about America today. His mistakes must not be repeated.
"Both major candidates are trying to avoid association with Bush's failed policies. But only one does so successfully. On every issue important to America, Barack Obama offers a plan that would pull this nation from the precipice built by bad Bush decisions. . . .
"On key issues such as campaign finance, pork-barrel spending, and humane interrogation of terrorism suspects, McCain has indeed been a 'maverick.' But mostly, he and Bush have been on the same page."
The Aspen Daily News editorial board writes: "It's been a long eight years.
"As if finding ourselves embroiled in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - and another against terror - were not enough, we have endured countless attacks on civil liberties, stood by as the executive branch repeatedly abused its power, and been clobbered by a financial crisis reminiscent of the Great Depression. President Bush's leadership has been so dismal that it isn't only Americans who have lost some faith in the red, white and blue. The United States has lost the respect of the world. And it all began when Bush launched his preemptive war."
And the editors of The New Republic write: "The past eight years have been like watching a TV makeover show in reverse. We entered the Bush era a ravishing beauty attracting envious stares. We leave it a gum-smacking sad sack with split ends and an empty social calendar. Over the course of George W. Bush's second term, in particular, the images of our country have not just been unattractive but virtually apocalyptic: a major city destroyed; cars raining into the Mississippi from a crumbling bridge; swaths of exurbia dotted with foreclosed homes; a financial system in ruins; angry emotionalism flooding politics.
"There are many causes of this bleak age, and not all of them can be laid at the feet of the president. But there's no doubt that Bush has run down the one engine capable of making our vast economic and physical infrastructure function properly: the federal government. He has disregarded the tenets that have guided the state since the Progressive Era--deference to disinterested expertise, an apolitical civil service, reliance on regulation to protect the common good. The ethos of the executive branch under his command has been one of 'heckuva job' hackery and anti-intellectualism. So the next president will not just inherit an economic crisis, a health care crisis, an environmental crisis, an infrastructural crisis, and, oh yes, two wars, an overstretched military, and a looming Iranian threat. He will inherit a government weakened to the point that it has become ill-equipped to protect the well-being of its citizens."Gitmo Watch
Steven Lee Myers writes in the New York Times: "Despite his stated desire to close the American prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, President Bush has decided not to do so, and never considered proposals drafted in the State Department and the Pentagon that outlined options for transferring the detainees elsewhere, according to senior administration officials.
"Mr. Bush's top advisers held a series of meetings at the White House this summer after a Supreme Court ruling in June cast doubt on the future of the American detention center. But Mr. Bush adopted the view of his most hawkish advisers that closing Guantánamo would involve too many legal and political risks to be acceptable, now or any time soon, the officials said...
"The effect of Mr. Bush's stance is to leave in place a prison that has become a reviled symbol of the administration's fight against terrorism, and to leave another contentious foreign policy decision for the next president. . . .
"[A]dministration officials say that even Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the most powerful advocates for closing the prison, have quietly acquiesced to the arguments of more hawkish advisers, including Vice President Dick Cheney. . .
"Mr. Cheney and his chief of staff, David S. Addington, have made it clear in the internal discussions this year that keeping Guantánamo open under a new president would validate the administration's decisions dealing with terrorists, the officials said."Environment Watch
The New York Times editorial board writes: "The Bush administration is writing one more sad chapter in the long, tortured history of Appalachia's coal-rich hills. Last week, the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining proposed a revision, amounting to a repeal, of one of the last regulatory protections against an environmentally ruinous mining practice called mountaintop removal. . . .
"Both John McCain and Barack Obama have said in the last month that they oppose mountaintop removal, which may explain the administration's mad dash to rewrite the rule before a more conservation-minded administration arrives in town."Live Online
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