It's Enough to Turn Your Hair Gray

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, September 28, 2004; 11:34 AM

So how's President Bush holding up?

CNN has uncorked a special report on "The First Patient" -- looking at health and the presidency.

It notes that Bush, for instance, hurt his right knee running and famously choked on a pretzel in 2002.

Bush also "made history June 29, 2002, when he underwent a routine colonoscopy and invoked the 25th Amendment. The procedure required the commander in chief to be anesthetized for a few hours.

"Before the procedure, Bush signed letters to House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, transferring presidential authority to Vice President Dick Cheney under the 25th Amendment. Bush resumed power a few hours later."

In this story, CNN describes how: "Whether the president is overseas, on the campaign trail or aboard Air Force One, a White House doctor is close at hand in case of a minor mishap -- or a catastrophic event. . . .

"Even the president's plane, Air Force One, has emergency medical equipment, including an operating table and operating room lights that typically are stored in compartments but can be installed in the center of the plane."

This story describes the presidency as "one of the world's most prestigious -- and most stressful and physically demanding -- positions. . . .

"Although the record has improved recently -- Reagan lived to 93, while President Ford is 91 and President George H.W. Bush 80 -- Northeastern University professor Robert Gilbert notes that more than two-thirds of presidents have failed to reach their era's life expectancy for white males, 'despite the fact that they have received the best medical care that you can imagine.'"

A little animated image on the article shows how presidents Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan aged in office.

Bush: Going Gray, Big Time

I haven't seen him up close and personal in quite a while, but looking at the photos lately, it looks to me like Bush has aged tremendously, just in the last several months.

I suppose it's possible that this photo and this photo could just be particularly unflattering.

But compare any of these recent shots with, say, this one from just this past May, and you can't help but notice that his hair has gone quite gray, his skin has gone a bit slack and his wrinkles have gotten more prominent.

And I thought he liked campaigning.

Who Wrote Allawi's Speech?

Dana Milbank writes in his White House Notebook column in The Washington Post: "It's a political whodunit: Since Ayad Allawi delivered his address to a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday, foreign policy devotees have been searching for the ghostwriter of the speech, which sounded curiously familiar to American ears.

"The White House denies that anybody in the administration did it. . . .

"But those searching for a ghostwriter of the Allawi speech may be overthinking things. Maybe the prime minister simply went to the White House Web site and combed through some of President Bush's speeches."

Milbank then considers the startling similarities.

Debate Watch

James Harding writes in the Financial Times: "If the presidential debate is a fraction as entertaining as the exercise in expectations management conducted by both the Bush and Kerry campaigns, the estimated 50m Americans expected to tune in on Thursday night are in for some sterling political theatre."

Glen Johnson writes in the Boston Globe: "White House political adviser Karl Rove said the campaign expects Kerry to come out 'flailing' at the president.

But, Johnson adds: "In a sign of the campaigns' efforts to manage expectations, Rove said Kerry did a good job last week of positioning himself by accusing Bush of misleading the country both about the reasons for the Iraq war and the postwar conditions, amid a persistent insurgency and a week in which three foreigners were beheaded."

Jodi Wilgoren and Robin Toner write in the New York Times: "Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, said that Mr. Bush had finished a round of full-scale run-throughs with Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire standing in for Mr. Kerry and that he was in the 'fine-tuning stage,' planning to spend Tuesday in informal sessions, without lecterns, 'crystallizing policy.'

"'I'm sure some of the best zingers he's given have been out there with a fishing pole in his hands,' Mr. Bartlett said of Mr. Bush's private preparation. 'The other thing you guard against is overloading there at the last moment. He's particularly warned us not to do that.'"

Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times that the presidential debate commission may rebel against the agreement forged by the two campaigns "that the audience at the Oct. 8 town-hall-style debate in Missouri be composed of people who are 'soft supporters' of Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush, meaning they had not solidly made up their minds but were leaning one way or another. The commission had proposed that the audience be filled with strictly undecided voters. . . .

"Debate commission officials also said they could not and would not enforce the agreement's stipulation that network cameras refrain from showing Mr. Bush when Mr. Kerry was speaking, and vice versa."

The Biggest Rally Yet

Mike Allen and Lois Romano write in The Washington Post: "At dusk, Bush staged the largest rally of his campaign, arriving at a historic park outside Cincinnati in a star-spangled bus, with cranes suspending a huge flag and a giant map of the Buckeye State over a vast, roaring crowd. While some in Bush's inner circle warned against overconfidence, the event planners replaced the usual country-music finale with 'Celebration,' and the overhead speakers blared tunes from 'Top Gun.'

"Flag-waving crowds of hundreds turned out in small towns to wave at Bush's cavalcade at it wended through Republican territory in southwest Ohio. Tieless and with his sleeves rolled up, Bush joked at the rally in West Chester that it had been 'a little tough to prepare for the debate' because Kerry 'keeps changing his positions, especially on the war.'

"'I think he can spend 90 minutes debating himself,' Bush said, as the crowd chanted, 'Flip, flop, flip, flop.'"

Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Peter Bronson writes that "the crowd was the big story. . . .

"Under a U.S. flag that billowed like a Viking sail, a sea of cheering, sun-reddened faces stretched from here to Election Day in West Chester on Monday. They came in throngs, hordes and armies, like a Moses movie's 'cast of thousands' . . .

"If Southwest Ohio is the deepest scarlet in the red Bush nation, West Chester is the new capital of Bush Country. In just seven days -- less notice than a dinner party for eight -- West Chester threw the biggest political party in America and more than 50,000 people came.

"'We went to a soccer game with 1,000 tickets and we didn't even have to walk around,' said West Chester Township Trustee George Lang. 'When the word got out, they came to us.'"

Here is the text of Bush's talk in Springfield, and the text of his speech at the rally in West Chester.

Iraq Watch

Andrea Mitchell of NBC News confirms the Time magazine story I wrote about yesterday, about a now-quashed White House plan for the CIA to secretly help pro-American candidates in Iraq.

"The plan for Iraq's election was so secret, it would have to be approved by the President," Mitchell said. "The White House denies he was involved. But the White House says the U.S. does need to counteract Iran's efforts to influence Iraq's elections."

Mitchell shows Bartlett saying: "There was a real concern, and is a real concern, about the Iranians trying to have undue influence on the elections process."

She concludes: "The administration plans to spend more than $150 million on Iraq's election -- it claims on public programs like voter registration -- promising that the CIA plan is dead."

Bush Was Warned -- By the Same Folks Warning Again

Douglas Jehl and David E. Sanger write in the New York Times: "The same intelligence unit that produced a gloomy report in July about the prospect of growing instability in Iraq warned the Bush administration about the potential costly consequences of an American-led invasion two months before the war began, government officials said Monday. . . .

"The assessments predicted that an American-led invasion of Iraq would increase support for political Islam and would result in a deeply divided Iraqi society prone to violent internal conflict."

John Diamond writes in USA Today that Congress received the report at the same time it was presented to the White House in early 2003. And, he notes, that same unit was also responsible for the "controversial National Intelligence Estimate that found Iraq had a chemical and biological weapons program and a nuclear weapons program."

Didn't See That Coming

Reuters reported last night: "The White House said on Monday it was closely monitoring U.S. crude oil prices after futures soared above the key $50 a barrel threshold for the first time.

"The president's economic team is monitoring the situation closely," said White House spokesman Trent Duffy.

Abdullah Shihri writes for the Associated Press this morning: "Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, will raise production capacity from about 9.5 million barrels a day to 11 million barrels daily in an attempt to rein in prices that topped US$50 a barrel for the first time, Oil Minister Ali Naimi said Tuesday.

"There has been some concern about whether Saudi Arabia has the excess capacity to significantly boost production, but Naimi said in a statement that the new capacity will come from fields where production has just begun."

The Rove Factor

Chris Suellentrop writes in Slate: "It's well-known that Karl Rove believes that swing voters like to vote for the winner. Therefore, one of the central political strategies for Bush has been to create an 'aura of inevitability' that, theoretically, will bring people to his side. If everyone believes you're a political juggernaut, the theory goes, then you will become a political juggernaut.

"The worse things get for Bush, the more likely his aides are to declare that he is invincible. The Bushies are starting to sound like Baghdad Bob, trumpeting a decisive victory for Saddam Hussein as the American military zooms into Iraq's capital city."

And Joshua Green has a long profile of Karl Rove in the November 2004 Atlantic, where he takes a close look at Rove's previous track record. He concludes: "If this year stays true to past form, the campaign will get nastier in the closing weeks, and without anyone's quite registering it, Rove will be right back in his element. He seems to understand -- indeed, to count on -- the media's unwillingness or inability, whether from squeamishness, laziness, or professional caution, ever to give a full estimate of him or his work. It is ultimately not just Rove's skill but his character that allows him to perform on an entirely different plane. Along with remarkable strategic skills, he has both an understanding of the media's unstated self-limitations and a willingness to fight in territory where conscience forbids most others."

Poll Watch

Dan Balz and Vanessa Williams write in The Washington Post: "President Bush heads into the first presidential debate with a solid lead over John F. Kerry, boosted by the perception that he is a stronger leader with a clearer vision, despite deep concerns about Iraq and the pace of the economic recovery, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News Poll and interviews with voters in battleground states."

Bush's six-point lead is down from a nine-point lead in early September, and his approval rating is down two points to 50 percent.

Here's the poll data.

Susan Page writes in USA Today: "President Bush leads Sen. John Kerry by 8 percentage points among likely voters, the latest USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll shows. That is a smaller advantage than the president held in mid-September but shows him maintaining a durable edge in a race that was essentially tied for months."

That poll shows Bush's job approval rating at 54%, the highest since January.

Here are those results.

Political Rally Politics

David M. Halbfinger writes in the New York Times: "Campaign rallies may be as old as politics itself, but in this year of earliests, firsts and most-expensive-evers, the Bush campaign has taken this most basic form of communication to a new state of the art, by pressing audiences to work as foot soldiers, before, during and immediately after Bush events. . . .

"The invitation-only policy -- and its application by what Bush campaign officials call overzealous organizers at the local level -- has given rise to repeated instances across the country where rallygoers were asked to sign affidavits of support to get tickets.

Hey, Where's the Pool?

Pool reporter Edwin Chen of the Los Angeles Times sent this missive out to his colleagues yesterday: "As you all know, several miles before we reached the day's final event site, the president's bus pulled into a highway rest stop -- but all the press, including the pool bus, continued on, to the rally site.

"Please rest assured that appropriate protests were registered up and down the chain of command. (Responses ranged from ignorance to profuse apologies)."

Halliburton Watch

David E. Rosenbaum does a "fact check" on Vice President Cheney's ties to Halliburton in the New York Times.

Among his findings: "Mr. Cheney's financial disclosure statements from 2001, 2002 and 2003 show that since becoming vice president-elect, he has received $1,997,525 from the company: $1,451,398 in a bonus deferred from 1999, the rest in deferred salary. He also holds options to buy Halliburton stock.

"Mr. Cheney's critics concede that there is no concrete evidence that he has pulled any strings on Halliburton's behalf. But he has refused to answer a request from Democrats in Congress that he provide an accounting of any communications he and his staff have had with Halliburton or actions they have taken on Halliburton contracts."

Valerie Plame Watch

Adam Liptak writes in the New York Times that the investigation of the disclosure of C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame's identity, "in which the president, the vice president and many other officials have been questioned, seems to have been both exhaustive and inconclusive."

And Liptak writes: "The real mystery in the investigation, lawyers involved in it say, is what Mr. Novak has done. . . .

"Mr. Novak may not have been subpoenaed, which would be curious. He may have asserted the reporter's privilege, but there is no reason to think that Judge Hogan would have ruled in his favor.

"He may have asserted his rights under the Fifth Amendment. But Mr. Novak faces no real peril under the 1982 law, and Mr. Fitzgerald could in any event require him to testify by offering him immunity. Or Mr. Novak may have testified."

Here is a graphic showing the key journalistic players in the case.

Today's Calendar

Bush is in Crawford doing debate prep; Laura Bush campaigns in Salem, Ore., and Henderson, Nev. Cheney speaks in Dubuque, Iowa, and Eau Claire, Wis.

Wild World

Yusuf Islam, the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, was deported to Britain last week after being refused entry into the United States.

He has an op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times, where he writes: "The unbelievable thing is that only two months earlier, I had been having meetings in Washington with top officials from the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to talk about my charity work."

Late Night Humor

From "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" via the Associated Press: "President Bush met with the prime minister of Greece. In the meeting, Bush praised the Greek people by saying, 'You gave the world Plato, which I once ate a can of.'"

© 2004