Bush Lets Fly

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, February 24, 2004; 10:41 AM

Enough with this above-the-fray stuff. President Bush got unapologetically partisan last night and uncorked some stinging zingers.

The ones I suspect you'll be hearing a lot today and for a while to come:

• "The other party's nomination battle is still playing out. The candidates are an interesting group, with diverse opinions: For tax cuts, and against them. For NAFTA, and against NAFTA. For the Patriot Act, and against the Patriot Act. In favor of liberating Iraq, and opposed to it. And that's just one senator from Massachusetts."

• "They now agree that the world is better off with Saddam Hussein out of power; they just didn't support removing Saddam from power. Maybe they were hoping he'd lose the next Iraqi election."

• "So far, all we hear is a lot of old bitterness and partisan anger. Anger is not an agenda for the future of America."

• "We'll hear them make a lot of promises over the next eight months -- and listen closely because there's a theme: Every promise will increase the power of politicians and bureaucrats over your income, over your retirement, over your health care, and over your life. It's that same old Washington mind-set -- they'll give the orders, and you'll pay the bills."

As Bush himself said earlier in the day: "I fully understand it's going to be the year of the sharp elbow and the quick tongue."

In fact, last night's speech to the Republican Governors Association was a preview of a lot of the themes we'll probably be hearing for the next eight months. So like Bush said, listen closely.

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "Casting himself as a candidate for the first time, Bush framed the election as a stark choice between 'an America that leads the world with strength and confidence, or an America that is uncertain in the face of danger.'"

Edwin Chen and Maura Reynolds write in the Los Angeles Times: "In one of the most partisan speeches of his presidency, Bush burnished the two pillars of his reelection bid so far: that he is a decisive 'wartime president' who will not relent in the war against terrorism, and that he remains deeply engaged in the task of creating new jobs. But for the first time, Bush also criticized what he said were the failings of the Democrats competing for the nomination to challenge him in the November election."

In his news analysis for the Los Angeles Times, Ronald Brownstein writes: "At the heart of Bush's speech at a Republican fundraiser was a determined effort to frame the 2004 election as a stark choice between more government and more individual freedom -- the same contrast he used with success against [Al] Gore in the final two months of their razor-tight race."

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Bush's political advisers said the speech was likely to be as close as the president comes to formally declaring his candidacy. Mr. Bush decided to go ahead with it, they said, after getting bad reviews from even some of his own supporters in two recent high-profile appearances: his one-hour interview this month on the NBC program 'Meet the Press' and his State of the Union address last month."

As John Roberts put it on the CBS Early Show this morning: "It wasn't so much a coming out as it was a forcing out."

If Bush's speech previewed how he will attack his rivals and how he will try to frame the campaign, it also previews that he intends to use Sept. 11 as a potent political talisman.

Jeff Zeleny of the Chicago Tribune notes that "[i]n a video tribute that opened the evening at the Washington Convention Center and several times throughout the 40-minute speech, the president harked his audience to the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Those are the images, he reminded, that Americans must not forget."

Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press notes that "Bush recalled terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, signaling his willingness to use the strikes for political gain, which his aides long had promised would not be done.

" 'September the 14th, 2001, I stood in the ruins of the Twin Towers. I remember a lot that day,' Bush told 1,400 Republican donors at a fund-raiser for GOP governors, recalling his trip to New York after the attacks.

" 'As we all did that day, these men and women searching through the rubble took it personally. I took it personally,' he said. 'I have a responsibility that goes on. I will never relent in bringing justice to our enemies. I will defend America, whatever it takes.' "

But as Anne E. Kornblut of the Boston Globe writes, invoking the terrorist attacks to "remind voters what is at stake in this election" is a "long-planned strategy."

So it's no surprise that Bush "referred specifically to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon no less than five times during last night's speech, on top of numerous references to national security in a broader sense."

(The Washington Post's Mike Allen took a long look at how Bush invokes the terrorist hijackings on the second anniversary.)

Here's the full text of Bush's speech.

Economic Projections and Assertions

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post that the Bush administration forecast that the economy would add 2.6 million jobs this year, while "derided as wildly optimistic, was one of the more modest predictions the administration has made about the economy over the past three years. . . .

"Figures released by the White House show that its overestimate of job creation in 2003 was the largest forecast error made in at least 15 years, and its 2002 underestimate of the deficit was the largest in at least 21 years."

On a related topic, Jonathan Weisman in The Washington Post notes that Bush often talks about tax cuts helping entrepreneurs. For instance, just yesterday in his remarks to governors at the White House (see text) Bush said: "If you're worried about job growth, it seems like it makes sense to give a little fuel to those who create jobs, the small-business sector."

But Weisman writes that the president's contention that upper-income tax cuts primarily benefit entrepreneurs is only supportable with data if you use a broad Republican definition of "small-business man" that "includes not only doctors, lawyers and management consultants but also chief executives who earn $3,000 renting out their chalets in Aspen or report $10,000 in speaking fees. An aide on the Joint Economic Committee conceded that the definition includes the army of accountants and consultants at such giant partnerships as KPMG LLP and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, not the firms that 'small business' brings to mind."

Did Racicot Volunteer Too Much?

Bush-Cheney campaign chairman Marc Racicot yesterday morning said Bush volunteered to go to Vietnam. It happened in an interview with NPR's Juan Williams.

But Bush himself says he didn't. Two weeks ago, for instance, Tim Russert asked him "But you didn't volunteer or enlist to go?" Bush responded: "No, I didn't."

Talking Points Memo blogger Joshua Micah Marshall has lots to say about this. Blogger Calpundit has a visual aid to resolving the issue.

Cheney Watch

It's hard to take all the dump-Cheney rumors too seriously after last night.

Referring to Cheney's role in 2000, when as the man in charge of Bush's vice presidential search committee he ended up recommending himself, Bush said last night: "Once again, I put him in charge of my vice presidential search committee. He tells me he's reviewed all the candidates. And he's come back with the same recommendation as last time. In fact, I made the choice myself after I had taken the measure of this man. They don't come any better. And I am proud to have Dick Cheney by my side."

Cheney himself was off fund-raising in Minnesota and Kansas, where he made his first go at -- like his boss -- hobnobbing with regular folks. He stopped off at the El Burrito Mercado Restaurant in St. Paul.

Cheney, just a regular guy himself, told the audience about his own experience as a businessman.

"It was -- it wasn't a small business. We worked in about a hundred countries around the world. But I started life in a very small business. I actually worked in a candy store for a couple -- when I was in high school."

Here's the full text.

And while it is unlikely that the Pentagon is going to open a criminal investigation of El Burrito Mercado anytime soon, Sue Pleming of Reuters reports that the "Pentagon said on Monday it opened a criminal investigation of fraud allegations against a unit of Vice President Dick Cheney's old company Halliburton Co. , including possible overpricing of fuel delivered to Iraq."

Scalia Watch

And Charles Lane writes in The Washington Post: "An environmental organization suing for access to the records of Vice President Cheney's energy policy task force asked Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to disqualify himself from the case yesterday, telling the court that Scalia's January duck-hunting trip with Cheney had created 'an appearance of impropriety.' "

David G. Savage in the Los Angeles Times writes: "It is rare for lawyers to formally urge a justice to step aside. . . .

"It is even more rare for a legal motion to include editorial cartoons and jokes from late-night comedians that poke fun at a member of the high court.

"The motion filed Monday evening included five cartoons. One portrays a large duck labeled 'Conflict of Interest,' alongside of which crouch two hunters. The hunter labeled 'Scalia' calls out: 'Duck? Do you see a duck, Dick?' 'Duck? What duck?' asks the one labeled 'Cheney.' "

"In one of his monologues, Jay Leno on 'The Tonight Show' described an 'embarrassing moment' for Cheney when he visited the White House. 'Security made him empty his pockets and out fell Justice Antonin Scalia!' the comedian said."

Findlaw has the Motion to Recuse in HTML and PDF versions, including exhibit 2, a copy of Scalia's letter to the Los Angeles Times, and exhibit 3, editorial cartoons etc. This is all found among Findlaw's collection of documents related to the White House Energy Task Force.

Friday Night Presidency

Dana Milbank, in his White House Notebook for The Washington Post, chronicles "the Friday Night Presidency." Milbank takes us through many examples of how "Friday has become a Bush favorite both for dropping bad news and for making announcements that appeal to the president's conservative base, not necessarily the general public."

Milbank has also put together, "for those defining the president by process of elimination . . . some of the other things Bush and his aides have said he is not."

Paige Calls NEA a 'Terrorist' Group

Amy Goldstein of The Washington Post writes: "Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige yesterday told the nation's governors that the largest teachers union in the United States is a 'terrorist organization' -- a remark that prompted a torrent of criticism and an apology by the end of the day.

"Paige made the comment about the 2.7 million-member National Education Association in a private meeting at the White House with the National Governors Association . . . in response to a question about his opinion of the NEA toward the end of a two-hour panel discussion that included five other Cabinet members."

Robert Pear in the New York Times reports that the Governor of Michigan, Jennifer M. Granholm, said the governors were "all a little bit stunned" to hear the union described that way.

More Headlines

Dan Eggen of The Washington Post writes: "A letter containing ricin poison that was sent to the White House last fall threatened to 'turn D.C. into a ghost town' and was postmarked in Tennessee three weeks before the Secret Service discovered it, the FBI said yesterday.

Alan Cooperman of The Washington Post writes: "Thousands of gay rights supporters are posting open letters on the Internet urging Mary Cheney, the vice president's daughter, to speak out against amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage." Here are some of the letters.

Scott J. Paltrow of the Wall Street Journal writes: "The White House hasn't yet delivered on significant concessions it announced in recent weeks to help the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, raising the hackles of some commissioners and relatives of victims."

The White House has indicated that the president would agree to meet privately only with a select group of commissioners. But, Paltrow writes: "Commission Chairman Thomas Kean, former Republican governor of New Jersey, said in an interview that any request by the president to appear before only a limited group of commission representatives would be unacceptable. 'The invitation was to meet before the whole commission,' Mr. Kean said."

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