Bush vs. Bush

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, May 10, 2004; 11:14 AM

Among those who spend a lot of time trying to figure out what makes President Bush tick, one common theory is that it's all about his father.

After years of living ignominiously in his dad's shadow, a prevalent argument goes, Dubya is finally in a position to one-up his Pa -- and may even be consumed by the urge to do so.

But Bush 43 (the 43rd president, that is) rarely talks about Bush 41.

So it's really pretty astonishing that he did so with Bill Sammon, White House correspondent for the Washington Times, in an interview for Sammon's new book, "Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry and Bush Haters."

In today's Washington Times, Sammon, who is also a political analyst for Fox News, uncorks the first of a series of reports based on his book.

"President Bush is resolved not to repeat what he thinks were the two fundamental blunders of his father's one-term presidency: abandoning Iraq and failing to vanquish the Democrats," Sammon writes.

"Freedom will prevail, so long as the United States and allies don't give the people of Iraq mixed signals, so long as we don't cower in the face of suiciders, or do what many Iraqis still suspect might happen, and that is cut and run early, like what happened in '91," Bush told Sammon.

Sammon also spoke with White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., who previously worked as deputy chief of staff for 41 (see more about Card) who "said when it comes to running for re-election, the son is much more engaged and far less complacent than the father."

Also in today's story: Bush senior adviser Karl Rove describes "how the Bush campaign intends to paint Mr. Kerry as a condescending elitist, who is pro-tax, weak on defense and on the wrong side in the culture wars."

Oddly enough, Sammon's book seems to have alternate covers -- or maybe one's just out of date. But on Amazon, the title is "Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry and Bush Haters."

While on Barnes and Noble the title is "Misunderestimated: How Bush is Beating Terrorism, Democrats and the Press."

Ah well, same difference.

In either case, "Misunderestimated" is definitely in the title, a reference to Bush's famous -- and ultimately accurate -- malapropism from the final day of his first presidential campaign.

"I'd like to keep expectations low," Mr. Bush said during one of the Sammon interviews. "It's better for people to be surprised rather than disappointed."

Harper Collins says the book "also meticulously tracks the rise of the Bush haters, a disturbing political phenomenon that colors everything from the war on terrorism to the presidential campaign. The impact extends to the press, which Sammon exposes for racing to brand Operation Iraqi Freedom another Vietnam 'quagmire' less than eighteen months after making the same blunder during the Afghan war."

And Deborah Orin wrote in the New York Post last week that the book "also reports that en route to his infamous May 1, 2003, aircraft-carrier landing, a pumped-up Bush -- once a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard -- teased his Secret Service agent by intentionally shaking the plane from side to side and nosed down so hard that they rose out of their seats."

Sammon, like his newspapers and television network, are considered to be relatively friendly to the current White House. He's written books before, including "At Any Cost : How Al Gore Tried to Steal the Election" in 2001.

Speaking of Dad

Jacob Weisberg, the editor of Slate, is out with a new book of his own, the "Deluxe Election-Edition Bushisms." An adapted version of the introduction is online.

"Why would someone capable of being smart choose to be stupid? To understand, you have to look at W.'s relationship with father," Weisberg writes.

"Dubya's youthful screw-ups and smart-aleck attitude reflect some combination of protest, plea for attention, and flailing attempt to compete. Until a decade ago, his résumé read like a send-up of his dad's. . . .

"After half a lifetime of this kind of frustration, Bush decided to straighten up. . . . Curiously, this late arrival at adulthood did not involve Bush becoming in any way thoughtful. Having chosen stupidity as rebellion, he stuck with it out of conformity."

Weisberg concludes: "This Oedipally induced ignorance expresses itself most dangerously in Bush's handling of the war in Iraq. Dubya polished off his old man's greatest enemy, Saddam, but only by lampooning 41's accomplishment of coalition-building in the first Gulf War. Bush led the country to war on false pretenses and neglected to plan the occupation that would inevitably follow."

And Yet More About Dad

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times that "Mr. Bush's relationship with Mr. Rumsfeld seems complicated right now, but it is nothing compared to the relationship that Mr. Rumsfeld had with Mr. Bush's father. . . . Mr. Rumsfeld was an intense rival of George Bush's, and by all accounts the men had a terrible relationship in the 1970's and 1980's."

Attack From the Right

In one of those columns that instantly changes the course of Washington discourse, George F. Will last week apparently made it okay for conservatives to publicly criticize the Bush White House for a lack of, well, thinking.

"This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts," Will wrote.

Dana Milbank and Jonathan Weisman write in The Washington Post today that conservatives are restive.

"The centerpiece of President Bush's foreign policy -- the effort to transform Iraq into a peaceful democracy -- has been undermined by a deadly insurrection and broadcast photos of brutality by U.S. prison guards. On the domestic side, conservatives and former administration officials say the White House policy apparatus is moribund, with policies driven by political expediency or ideological pressure rather than by facts and expertise. . . .

"Some attribute the policy lethargy to personnel changes, particularly on the domestic side," they write. "Joshua B. Bolten, the deputy chief of staff for policy, has been replaced by Harriet Miers, a Texas lawyer and former chairman of the Texas Lottery Commission. Jay Lefkowitz, director of the Domestic Policy Council, has been replaced by Kristen Silverberg, who was a young aide to Bolten. And Lawrence B. Lindsey was replaced as top economic adviser by investment banker Stephen Friedman.

"Likewise, John Bridgeland, a former director of the Domestic Policy Council, was replaced as director of Bush's USA Freedom Corps initiative by Desiree Sayle, the former director of correspondence in the White House. And public-policy professor DiIulio was replaced as chief of Bush's 'faith-based' initiative by Jim Towey, who had ties to the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush."

Blogger Andrew Sullivan gets in on the act. "The one anti-war argument that, in retrospect, I did not take seriously enough was a simple one. It was that this war was noble and defensible but that this administration was simply too incompetent and arrogant to carry it out effectively. I dismissed this as facile Bush-bashing at the time."

Rumsfeld Watch

CNN reports that Bush, who is heading over to the Pentagon for a previously scheduled briefing, "is expected to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Rumsfeld as the president delivers a statement after the briefing."

Mike Allen and Josh White write in Sunday's Washington Post: "After gauging reaction to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's testimony Friday about the abuse of Iraqi detainees, the White House deployed President Bush's most senior officials yesterday to make the case that the Pentagon chief is too valuable to lose now. . . .

"National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said in a telephone interview, after speaking to Bush at Camp David, that Rumsfeld 'has the president's support, and he's going to continue to have it.'

"'Don Rumsfeld was effective before all this began, and he's effective now, and he's going to be effective in the future, because he has the complete confidence of the president,' Rice said."

Randall Mikkelsen of Reuters reports that Vice President Cheney released a statement about Rumsfeld. "People ought to get off his case and let him do his job," said Cheney.

Ken Fireman writes for Newsday: "Cheney's statement was widely interpreted as a White House signal to Republicans to rally around Rumsfeld."

But Fireman writes that a Republican member of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), "bristled at Cheney's 'get off his case' comment, saying it was 'just as inappropriate' as the Democratic calls for Rumsfeld's scalp and failed to appreciate the importance of congressional oversight."

Tony Karon writes in Time that "axing the tough-talking executive charged with executing his war on terror would be sharply counterintuitive to President Bush, and could send a disastrous message of internal discord at a moment when the administration is vulnerable over the conduct of the war. The test will come in the weeks ahead, as investigations proceed and new details emerge. The President has said he does not recognize the America shown in the Abu Ghraib abuse photographs. But if investigations show that the abuse is the result of more than a handful of bad apples, Bush will be under growing pressure to take some action."

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times that the controversy over the prison abuse in Iraq presents Bush with political challenges at home.

"By now, the presidency must look like a Rubik's Cube to George W. Bush. Last year, when Americans thrilled to statues of Saddam Hussein tumbling in Baghdad, the economy was stalled. Now that the economy is finally moving into gear, Americans are growing increasingly restive over events in Iraq."

Among the new challenges:

• "As a candidate, Bush promised to inaugurate a 'responsibility era.' But as a chief executive he has been reluctant to hold anyone accountable for failure."


• "The heart of Bush's case for reelection is that he is a strong, decisive leader in the war against terrorism. But the prison scandal could reinforce earlier questions about his management style."

Advice From Karl Rove

Do you think maybe Karl Rove didn't spend a whole lot of time preparing for his 15-minute commencement address at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University?

Kevin Crossett writes in the Lynchburg News & Advance that Rove gave graduates "practical advice such as removing facial piercing before interviewing for a job and lectured on the power of compound interest.

"'The most powerful force in the world created by man may be nuclear power, but it is followed closely by compound interest,' he said. 'So pay off your credit cards every month in full and save as much as you can as early as you can.'"

Chris Kahn of the Associated Press chose to lead with Rove's call to judge leaders on the basis of character.

Rove said America needs people who have "the moral clarity and courage to do what's right, regardless of consequence, fashion or fad. . . . You either have values ingrained in your heart and soul that will not change with the wind or you don't."

Kahn also recorded this Rovian anecdote:

"At the age of 9, I put a Nixon bumper sticker on the wire basket in the front of my bicycle. Unfortunately the little Catholic girl down the street was a couple years and about 20 pounds on me. She was for Kennedy.

"When she saw me on my bike with my bumper sticker for Nixon, she put me on the ground, flattened me out and gave me a bloody nose. . . . Despite that beating I never lost interest in politics."

Apology Watch

My readers and I engaged in much discussion last week about Bush's apology, which first didn't materialize (see Thursday's column) then did, but in a somewhat odd construction (see Friday's column and Live Online dialogue.)

What I didn't know then was that in Bush's little-noted interview with the Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram on Thursday -- which the White House didn't release until late Friday -- Bush apologized again, this time more directly.

"Today, I can't tell you how sorry I am to them and their families for the humiliation," he said.

"I'm also sorry because people are then able to say, look how terrible America is. But this isn't America, that's not -- Americans are appalled at what happened."

And then again:

"And I repeat to you, sir, I am sorry for the humiliation suffered by those individuals. It makes me sick to my stomach to see that happen.

"I'll tell you what else I'm sorry about. I'm sorry that the truth about our soldiers in Iraq becomes obscured. In other words, we've got fantastic citizens in Iraq; good kids; good soldiers, men and women who are working every day to make Iraqi citizens' lives better."

And then again:

"Q Again, sir, do you feel like you need to apologize to the Iraqis and the Arab world after you said that, 'I'm sorry'?

"THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm sorry for the prisoners, I really am. I think it's humiliating."

The headline on al-Ahram: "I'm Sorry."

To a strict apology constructionist, Bush's apology may still be a bit passive. He apologizes for the humiliation, not for the grotesque actions taken by people under his command. And he certainly doesn't take responsibility. But it's much more direct than reporting that he apologized to Jordan's king.

John Tierney writes in the New York Times that "presidential apologies are never simple, especially in a campaign."

And in an opinion piece for The Washington Post's Sunday Outlook section, Tony Judt writes: "What is missing in the modern American cult of 'sorry' is any sense of responsibility. Whether it concerns the incompetence of the security apparatus before 9/11, a misguided and failed imperial adventure, the mismanagement and degradation of the army, or the criminal behavior of Americans in Iraq, everyone feels 'bad' and everyone expresses 'regret.' But until Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld testified on Friday, no one even hinted at feeling 'responsible.'"

Friday's Trip

Amy Goldstein writes in The Washington Post: "Campaigning on Friday through politically sensitive territory that straddles the Mississippi River, President Bush sought to soften the political damage from the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers, insisting that 'the cause of freedom is in good hands.' . . .

"Bush's stops were filled with campaign theatrics. At his first visit, in Dubuque, the front end of his bus pulled inside the Grand River Center, and he bounded out of it to blaring rock music and the waving of small flags by the cheering, hand-selected audience."

You can find the text of his various remarks here.

Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times: "On local television and radio and in the main newspaper here, Mr. Bush's stop in this Mississippi River town, part of his three-day bus tour, has scored blanket coverage for days, much of it downright giddy.

"It was a happy welcome for Mr. Bush's campaign team, particularly at a time when his administration was under siege over abuses of American-held prisoners in Iraq."

Trade Watch

Jackie Calmes writes in the Wall Street Journal: "For a president who boasts that he says what he means and means what he says, George W. Bush's trade record hasn't been so simple to parse.

"Over the past four years, Mr. Bush has swung from free-market candidate to sometime-protectionist president and back again. Lately he has re-emerged as a full-throated free-trader, to the wonder of folks on both sides of the debate."

Today's Calendar

The president participates in a ceremony celebrating the countries chosen for the Millennium Challenge Account and meets with Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots at the White House. In between, he receives a military briefing from Rumsfeld and other military leaders at the Pentagon, and makes a statement.

But Remember: They Can't Vote

Sarah Lyall writes in the New York Times: "Across Europe, anti-Bush feeling has contributed to a consensus that the coming American election is of singular importance: for the United States, certainly, but also for the rest of the world. Anxieties about the direction America is going are accompanied more often than not by a passionate desire, cutting across national borders and party lines, to see President Bush voted out of office in November."

Commiserate Watch

Washington Post columnist Al Kamen observes: "On Thursday, Bush had a fine meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan and later told reporters he was certain 'that those guilty of these crimes [in Iraq] will be brought to justice. . . . So as I told His Majesty, I said, we will -- people will be brought to justice in a way commiserate with how our system works.'"

"Now the White House Web site transcript says he said 'commensurate.'"

Kamen points readers to the video, where about 18 1/2 minutes into the news conference you can listen for yourself.

The White House Web site still chronicles at least four un-cleaned-up uses of "commiserate."

Pool Follies

As part of his Friday trip, Bush stopped by Dave and Lois Kuhle's farm in Hazel Green, Wis.

Pooler Richard Stevenson of the New York Times filed a report to his colleagues. Here's an excerpt:

"The cows were munching feed that had been spread along the edge of the walkway, so that they formed a kind of bovine honor guard for the president as he walked past them. The Bushes and Kuhles walked all the way to the end, where they stopped, framed in a large doorway against a background of rolling fields. They stood chatting there for several moments; I couldn't hear anything of what they said. They then strolled back toward the pool; at one point the president stopped and patted a cow on the head.

"The pool was then rushed outside, where several groups of backup cows could be seen, and around to the driveway where the bus was parked. The Bushes and the Kuhles walked up and posed for pictures. When asked if he would take some questions, the president responded by saying the Kuhles were looking for someone to milk a cow, and he suggested that yours truly should volunteer for the job. I offered to do so in return for a question (a pool reporter will go to any lengths). But the offer was apparently not deemed acceptable because we were immediately ushered back onto the pool bus."

Pool Follies, Part II

Longtime White House Briefing readers may recall that for a while back in January, Bush was making a habit while on out-of-town trips of pulling over to a local store and urging the press corps to join him in plunking down some money and thereby stimulating the economy.

There was that time at the chocolate factory, for instance. And that time at the rib joint.

Friday, Bush stopped off at Culver's Frozen Custard in Viroqua, Wis.

The pool wasn't allowed in this time, but Amy Goldstein of The Washington Post filed a report for her colleagues. Here is an excerpt:

"The president emerged after perhaps five minutes with a vanilla cone, surrounded by most of the children who had been inside. His hand rested on the shoulder of a boy (of unknown name and age) wearing a red sweatshirt, khaki shorts and a broad grin. Asked how the frozen custard was, the president replied, 'Lot of calories' and, a moment later, 'I highly recommend it.' Asked whether his patronage of the custard shop helped the economy, he replied, 'I'm glad you finally figured out how it works.'"

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