Bush Backdrop Turns Sour

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, May 18, 2004; 11:01 AM

When President Bush visited a Timken Co. ball-bearing plant in Canton, Ohio, a year ago, he told workers that their optimism about the future of their company inspired his optimism about the future of the economy. (Correction: Bush visited the company's nearby research center, which is not closing down: See my May 21 column for details.)

A photo from his talk at Timken leads the White House Web site's "Building America's Economy Photo Essay." It shows Bush standing in front of a glorious red, white and blue "Jobs and Growth" banner.

As he said at the time, the "greatest strength of the American economy is found right here, right in this room, found in the pride and skill of the American work force."

Last week, Timken announced that the folks right there in that room are getting fired. Timken, the world's largest industrial bearings maker, whose chairman is a major donor and fundraiser for the Republican Party, plans to shut down three factories in Canton and eliminate 1,300 jobs.

It's a particularly tough setback for Bush because job loss is a key issue in Ohio, a critically important swing state come November.

Mark Naymik writes in the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "When President Bush needed a factory floor to serve as a prop for an economic speech last year, Canton-based Timken Co. opened its doors.

"But the maker of bearings delivered a symbolic political blow Friday to the president's re-election bid in Ohio, when it announced plans to close three plants in Canton and eliminate 1,300 jobs.

"Manufacturing plants have been at the center of the presidential debate in Ohio, which has lost about 155,000 manufacturing jobs since Bush took office."

Gloria Irwin of the Akron Beacon-Journal writes about why Timken closed the plants: "Costs of production at three Timken Co. bearing plants in Canton are far higher than at other company plants and at competitors -- partially because the union workers continue to receive full, company-paid hospitalization."

Thomas W. Gerdel writes in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Timken plans to move production "elsewhere."

Timken is currently Canton's largest employer, but has 56 bearings plants in 27 countries.

Canton is in Stark County. Joe Milicia of the Associated Press writes: "Stark County is a bellwether county in a bellwether state, having voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election since 1960 with the exception of Jimmy Carter in 1976. Only two presidential candidates have won without carrying Ohio since 1892."

Here is the text of Bush's remarks in April of last year.

"Tim told me that this is a company -- we are a 'roll up your sleeves' company, a can -- it is a can-do environment," Bush said. "Which is one of the reasons I've got so much optimism about the future of our economy -- because of the 'roll up your sleeves' attitude by thousands of our fellow Americans, because of the business sense of 'we can do whatever it takes to overcome the obstacles in our way'. I know you're optimistic about the future of this company. I'm optimistic about the future of our country. . . .

"I appreciate the Timken family for their leadership, their concern about their fellow associates. They're working hard to make sure the future of this company is bright, and therefore, the future of employment is bright for the families that work here, that work to put food on the table for their children."

Even at the time of his speech, some workers expressed concern about jobs. The Associated Press wrote: "Bill Miknis, 50, a welder who has worked at the Timken Co. for 29 years, had a front-row seat for the president's speech at the company's research center in this northeast Ohio city. Calling himself a Bush supporter, Miknis praised the administration's work during the war with Iraq.

" 'But I'm concerned about the economy. I think we need to get the country going and get more jobs here,' Miknis said."

Opensecrets.org shows that the Timken Company and various Timken family members in Ohio have given more than $1 million in the past three elections -- as far as I can tell, pretty much all to Republicans.

Gas Prices Watch

Rising gas prices are turning into a major headache for President Bush, as well as a huge variable in the upcoming election.

Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "With oil prices still climbing, President Bush is coming under increasing criticism for his handling of the burgeoning political issue of gasoline costs, not only from Democrats but also from administration allies in the oil-refining and chemical industries."

Bush is increasingly under pressure to release oil from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve -- instead of pouring more into it.

Bloomberg reports: "President George W. Bush allowed an increase in oil refinery mergers to go unchecked since he took office and may have contributed to the highest gasoline prices in 20 years as the November election approaches."

And Alan Murray writes in his Political Capital column in the Wall Street Journal: "With his poll numbers plummeting, President Bush could use a little help from his friends -- and two friends in particular: Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

"The White House has been counting on the two Bush buddies to keep interest rates and gasoline prices low for the election. Mr. Greenspan was expected to show gratitude for being reappointed to a fifth term; Prince Bandar was supposed to follow through on promises he made at the outset of the Iraq war.

"Now, neither seems likely to deliver."

How High Does It Go, Part II

The Newsweek story I wrote about yesterday continues to reverberate around Washington.

Terry Moran of ABC News reported last night: "The focus of attention in the prison abuse scandal has now shifted to Washington, and the White House. The charge: The Bush Administration early on in the war on terror set a tone of disregard for international law that ultimately led to abuses in Iraq."

"Did it start at the top?" asks NBC's Tom Brokaw. David Gregory answers: "Today, international law experts were divided over whether the president's decision on the treatment of detainees opened the door to the kind of abuses that were committed in Iraq."

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post that the memo from White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales dismissing some of the provisions of the Geneva Conventions as "quaint" has "created new problems for the administration because it suggested a cavalier attitude toward the core treaty governing treatment of prisoners of war. But White House officials said yesterday the views contained in the memo did not help create an atmosphere for the mistreatment at Abu Ghraib prison. . . .

"White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters the memo did not pertain to Iraq and thus had no role in the prison abuse scandal. It 'related specifically to al Qaeda and the Taliban. It did not reference Iraq at all. We have made it clear that we are bound by the Geneva Conventions in Iraq,' he said.

"McClellan said the provisions Gonzales had called quaint were giving the captured enemy 'such things as commissary privileges, scrip (i.e. advances of monthly pay), athletic uniforms, and scientific instruments.' He added that the administration decided to treat al Qaeda and Taliban detainees 'humanely and consistent with the Geneva Conventions.' The White House has not released the memo, though lawmakers have requested a copy."

Here's the text of McClellan's press gaggle aboard Air Force One yesterday.

Valerie Plame Watch

Tom Brune writes in Newsday: "The special prosecutor probing whether the Bush administration illegally disclosed a CIA operative's name has asked at least three publications to allow him to interview journalists who have written about the leak.

"Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has contacted Newsday, The Washington Post and Time magazine to talk to reporters about the leak of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak last summer. . . .

"In January, Fitzgerald issued a subpoena to the White House seeking staff contacts with more than two dozen journalists about Plame, Wilson or the leak.

"But editors or representatives for some publications on the list, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, said yesterday that they had not been contacted by Fitzgerald. Justice Department rules require prosecutors to exhaust all other sources before seeking to require reporters to produce information."

Poll Watch

Bill Sammon writes in the Washington Times: "The chief strategist for President Bush's re-election campaign yesterday said that if the president's declining approval ratings, which are already at record lows, slip an additional seven percentage points, it will be 'very difficult to win.'

"Citing a Gallup poll that shows Mr. Bush's approval rating at 46 percent, strategist Matthew Dowd said the election could be decided by a relatively small shift in support."

Said Dowd: "If his approval numbers move above 50, it's very difficult to lose. If his numbers move below 40, it's very difficult to win. Those are facts."

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports: "President George W. Bush's approval rating fell 6 points to a record low of 42 percent in the latest Zogby International poll and a majority of voters said the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction."

Here are the results from Zogby.

White House Notebook

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post that this would have been a good time to call on the White House's Iraq Stabilization Group . . . if the group itself hadn't become unstable.

He also raises the issue of Vice President Cheney's May 3 excursion to the Wal-Mart distribution center in Bentonville, Ark. Did taxpayers fund an obvious campaign trip?

Brown v. Board

Mike Allen and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post: "President Bush saluted the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation ruling [in Topeka, Kan.] Monday with a tribute to America as 'a nation that strives to do right,' while Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) hailed half a century of racial progress but said the nation continues to fail black and Hispanic citizens. . . .

"The back-to-back speeches by the rival candidates gave a preview of face-offs to come. Bush remains intent on projecting optimism, despite polls showing that a majority of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, and Kerry is jumping into the role of challenger by highlighting conditions he would strive to fix. . . .

"During an interlude in the warm-up speeches as the flag-waving crowd awaited Bush's arrival, Air Force One flew directly over the school as a youth choir sang 'Let There Be Peace on Earth.' The flyover, a reminder of the huge benefits of incumbency, was carried live on local television."

Adam Nagourney and Richard W. Stevenson write in the New York Times: "The remarks by the president and Mr. Kerry, his likely Democratic opponent, came in two separate if perhaps unequal events to commemorate the anniversary of the case, Brown v. Board of Education, which sprang from this city 50 years ago."

And, they write: "The commemoration brought the two candidates into unusually close contact, albeit in a Republican state that almost surely will not be in play this year. Accordingly, their visits were brief. . . . "

Tim Carpenter's lead story for the Topeka Capital-Journal barely even mentions Kerry.

Here's the text of Bush's remarks.

Today's Calendar

Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press writes: "President Bush will push his Mideast peace effort before an influential pro-Israel lobbying group in the latest bid by his administration to court Jewish voters who could tip the balance in a tight election."

Reaction Watch

Here are statement from Bush yesterday on gay marriage and the killing of the president of the Iraqi Governing Council.

Michael Moore Watch

Desson Thomson writes in The Washington Post from Cannes: " 'Fahrenheit 9/11,' Michael Moore's most powerful film since 'Roger & Me,' slices and dices President Bush's presidency into a thousand satirical pieces. . . .

"Judging by the spirited pandemonium that has greeted this documentary at the Cannes Film Festival, 'Fahrenheit 9/11' not only is the film to beat in the competition for the Golden Palm, it also has the makings of a cultural juggernaut -- a film for these troubling times."

© 2004 washingtonpost.com