Bush Goes Positive -- Briefly

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, July 21, 2004; 11:17 AM

President Bush tried something new yesterday on the campaign trail in Cedar Rapids: He went positive.

His stump speech these days is normally bursting with zingers aimed at his Democratic opponents, but Bush was onstage for more than an hour in Iowa and took only a couple of half-hearted swats at "the other team."

Instead, he spoke in a more proactive way about the improving economy, his tax policy and the lessons he learned from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

And after months of describing himself as a "war president," Bush injected a new phrase into the campaign lexicon when he said: "I want to be the 'peace president.'"

Historically, presidents don't go negative early in the campaign. Now, when Bush goes positive, it's actually news.

But it didn't last long: A few hours later, in St. Charles, Mo., it was back to busting Sen. John F. Kerry's chops.

Give Peace a Chance

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush had an announcement for the crowd of cheering supporters here Tuesday afternoon: He was going positive.

"'Oh, I know, you're probably here thinking I'm going to spend most of the time attacking my opponent,' Bush told the perspiring partisans in a sweltering gymnasium. 'I've got too much good to talk about.' . . .

"Bush's brief, unilateral ceasefire illustrates the effort his campaign is making to calibrate the mix between positive and negative," Milbank writes.

"Whether they love or hate him, Americans hold firm views about Bush. Kerry, however, remains vaguely defined. That means Bush has more opportunity to tarnish Kerry's image than to polish his own."

Here are some more quotes from the text of Bush's remarks in Cedar Rapids:

"The enemy declared war on us, and you just got to know nobody wants to be the 'war President.' I want to be the 'peace President.' (Applause.) I want to be the President -- after four years, four more in this office, I want people to look back and say, the world is a more peaceful place. (Applause.) America is a safer country. Four more years, and America will be safer and the world will be more peaceful. (Applause.) . . .

"The economy is strong and it's getting stronger. (Applause.) And I think one of the reasons why is because I understand the role of government is not to try to create wealth, but an environment in which the entrepreneur, the small business person, the farmer can thrive. And we have done just that. (Applause.) . . .

"For a while, we were marching to war; now we're marching to peace."

Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press notes that Bush said the word "peaceful" a dozen times.

Adam Entous writes for Reuters: "After launching two wars, President Bush said on Tuesday he wanted to be a 'peace president'. . . . "

And Celeste Katz and Kenneth R. Bazinet write in the New York Daily News: "All of a sudden, President Bush likes the sound of 'peace President.'"

Here's the text of Bush's standard stump speech, later in the day, in St. Charles.

The Agenda?

Adam Nagourney and Richard W. Stevenson write in the New York Times about the Bush/Cheney campaign's plan for a monthlong offensive "that will blend criticism of the Democratic ticket with what aides said would be Mr. Bush's first effort to set out a second-term agenda."

According to the plan, "after months in which Mr. Bush has repeatedly attacked Mr. Kerry, the president would pivot and begin offering ideas for what a second Bush term would look like. . . .

"The Bush campaign is shifting gears at time when some Republicans have grown worried about Mr. Bush's prospects and concerned that the hard-edged and expensive campaign he has waged over the past six months has inflicted less damage on the Democrats than many had hoped. . . .

"'We'll continue to frame the race as a comparison -- we will continue to keep the hammer on,' said one adviser to Mr. Bush's campaign. 'But increasingly now we'll be talking about the president's agenda and vision for the future.'"

But Jackie Calmes asks in the Wall Street Journal today: "Where's the beef?"

Calmes writes: "In his stump speech, Mr. Bush often says, 'Tell your friends: I have a plan. I know where I want to take this country.' But both Republicans and reporters increasingly have been asking Bush aides just what that plan is, beyond the president's reiterations about making his tax cuts permanent, fighting terrorism and other proposals."

Here are some possible elements of such a plan, according to Calmes:

• Tax incentives to reduce the growing ranks of the uninsured, now numbering about 44 million.

• Steps to help cover high college-tuition costs.

• Proposals aimed at spurring home ownership, pension protections and retirement savings.

• And a Social Security overhaul to allow individuals to open private retirement accounts with a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes.

But -- and it's a big but -- "Vastly complicating the internal debate is the deficit," Calmes writes. And: "Apparently even the idea of 'the big idea' is up for debate."

9/11 Report Watch

Dan Eggen and Mike Allen write in The Washington Post that the final report by the 9/11 commission "details as many as 10 missed opportunities by the Bush and Clinton administrations to detect or derail the deadly terrorist hijackings" and that six came under Bush's watch, four under Clinton's.

Philip Shenon writes in the New York Times: "The political haggling over the conclusions of the Sept. 11 commission began in earnest on Tuesday" as "Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and other House Republican leaders held a news conference at which they suggested that the report, which is scheduled to be made public on Thursday, would show that intelligence and law enforcement failures before the Sept. 11 attacks were more the responsibility of the Clinton administration than of the Bush administration."

Halliburton Watch

Robert O'Harrow Jr. writes in The Washington Post: "Democrats who have been hammering away at Halliburton Co. and its former chief executive Dick Cheney about the company's work in Iraq yesterday added Iran to their list of complaints. "

Judicial Nominee Watch

Helen Dewar writes in The Washington Post: "Democrats yesterday blocked the appeals court nomination of former Interior Department solicitor William G. Myers III, rekindling the Senate's bitter struggle over President Bush's judicial choices just before the two parties' national conventions."

Twins Watch

Misbehaving, so soon?

The Associated Press reports that the president had just gotten into his limousine at St. Louis' Lambert International Airport with his 22-year-old twins Barbara and Jenna -- making their first joint appearance on the campaign trail -- when Jenna "started smiling through the window at about 10 to 12 news photographers and radio reporters stationed on a platform.

"Then she stuck her tongue out and began to laugh.

"As everyone on the platform started to laugh and snap photographs, Jenna Bush looked at them for a few more seconds, smiling and laughing."

Here's an AP photo of Jenna sticking out her tongue.

You could, potentially, ask Jenna and Barbara about this on Friday afternoon, when they do an online chat on the Bush/Cheney Web site.

Edwin Chen writes in the Los Angeles Times that Bush was "[V]isibly buoyed by the presence of his daughters."

Moon Shot

Guy Gugliotta and Dan Morgan write in The Washington Post: "A key congressional subcommittee slashed President Bush's NASA budget request by more than $1 billion yesterday, dealing a sharp early blow to the administration's efforts to set in motion an ambitious plan to send humans to the moon and Mars."

AFP notes that at the same time, lawmakers are "giving a healthy increase to national cemeteries where Iraq war dead are being buried."

Net Worth

Bush tries to come off as a regular guy in his campaign appearances. But maybe he pushed it a little too far yesterday. During that Cedar Rapids talk, he said this:

"You see, if you can't raise enough by taxing the rich, guess who gets to pay next? Yes, the not-rich. (Laughter.) That's all of us."

Bush and first lady Laura Bush had income totaling $822,126 last year, and according to the Wall Street Journal, their net worth is somewhere between $7.7 and $18.9 million.

Not not rich.

Valerie Plame Watch

Joseph C. Wilson IV has an op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times, in which he writes: "The right-wing campaign against me and Valerie does not alter the reality that someone in the Bush administration exposed her identity and compromised national security. I believe it was a malicious act meant to keep others from crossing a vindictive administration."

John Diamond writes in USA TODAY: "In the case of Iraq's alleged attempt to buy uranium in Africa -- a key reason the Bush administration cited for its belief that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction -- not even hindsight is 20/20."

Today's Calendar

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press that Bush today "signs a bill to develop and stockpile vaccines and other antidotes to biological and chemical weapons. "

Then there's a photo-op with astronauts, commemorating yesterday's 35th anniversary of the moon landing.

Bush then meets with Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase. Edith M. Lederer writes for the Associated Press that Nastase is a strong backer of Bush's Iraq plans and has 700 troops and civilian contractors in Iraq.

And tonight, Bush gives a speech at a GOP fundraising gala in Washington.

Sanger's Creative Side

It's not easy being a poet in this business.

New York Times White House correspondent David E. Sanger found an outlet for his creative side in the "pool report" yesterday from the flight back from St. Louis last night.

"There was no news aboard Air Force One/After it left the tarmac at six-forty-one.

"No news, I say, save for the President's sweat/Which soaked his shirt, hoo-boy was he wet. . . .

"The big plane landed at nine-twenty-two/And disgorged its tired, cranky little crew

"Yet as we wandered into that good night/One hundred and four days remained to re-witness the fight."

Parody Watch

Everyone, it seems, is crazy about this animated parody of the Bush-Kerry contest, by an outfit called jibjab.com.

Here's George Lewis talking about it on the NBC Nightly News; Here's Hattie Kaufman on CBS's Early Show.

And if you can't get through to the servers, one of my readers pointed me toward some fun audio by The George W. Bush Singers.

Putting the President on the Spot

It was, indeed, quite the lovefest in Cedar Rapids, where members of the audience were allowed to ask a few questions. Softballs all around. Here's one:

"AUDIENCE MEMBER: What kind of pets do you have in the White House?

"THE PRESIDENT: I can't stand these tough questions. (Laughter.) What kind of pets we got in the White House. (Laughter.) Thank you for asking that question. We have got two. We had three, and unfortunately, little Spot has passed on. It was a sad moment. She is -- interestingly enough, Spot was born in the White House, when Mother and Dad were there. And curiously enough, Spot passed away in the White House, a happy dog. (Laughter.) She was happy. We were sad. We loved her dearly -- 15 years old, I want you to know. Now, we have -- we got two left. The cat has got about nine lives and nine names. (Laughter.) I just call it Willie. Is that all right? Yes. The girls love Willie. And then the all-time great dog, Barney. (Laughter.) Barney -- Barney is a near four-year-old Scottish terrier. Gosh, I'm glad you asked. (Laughter.) He's a fabulous little guy."

Barney, of course, has his own Web site. The cat's official name, by the way, is India.

© 2004 washingtonpost.com