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Bush Deplores American Timidity

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, October 12, 2007; 1:44 PM

President Bush has an explanation for why the public is so skeptical of his policies. The problem is not with the policies -- it's with the public.

"We have lost sight of what it means to be a nation willing to be aggressive in the world and spread freedom or deal with disease. And we have lost our confidence in the ability to compete internationally," Bush said in an interview with Wall Street Journal reporters yesterday.

The interview was mostly about business issues, especially his renewed push for free trade agreements, but Bush repeatedly described himself and his mission in almost evangelical terms.

How will he restore American confidence? Certainly not by changing course. Bush's solution is ceaseless proselytizing -- or, as he described it, "a sustained strategy to keep reminding people of the benefits of trade and the benefits of helping people become free."

For instance: "[E]xports create jobs; we've just got to keep reminding people of that over and over again. . . . [I]t's really incumbent for those of us who believe that trade is good for the worker, trade enhances productivity, that competition is good for the consumer, that we just constantly remind people of benefits, because there's a lot of negativity now about trade, and there's -- this is an easy issue for people to get spooked about."

Leaving aside the obvious reasons why the public is dubious about Bush's "freedom agenda," a likely explanation for why the average American feels negatively the economy is that the benefits of globalization and increased productivity are being reaped disproportionately by the very wealthy. Bush can say the economy is booming, but for many workers, the downsides of free trade -- such as job insecurity -- are much more vivid than the upsides.

Instead of entertaining any doubts about the wisdom of his positions, however, the president prefers to celebrate his resoluteness. "The job of the President is to have a philosophy that is good for the people, and articulate it, sell it, and work hard to -- and work hard to make sure people understand the benefits of trade, in this case," Bush said. "The fundamental question facing somebody in public office is, do you have a set of principles that you're willing to stand by. And I do."

The Journal Interview

John D. McKinnon and Greg Hitt write in the Wall Street Journal: "President Bush, saying many Americans have lost faith in their ability to compete in the global economy, vowed to revive the country's free-trade agenda, and he chastised corporate America for behavior that is adding to the public's anxiety. . . .

"Mr. Bush pledged to turn the situation around. . . .

"The president's efforts to make Americans feel better about the economy come at a time when he is struggling against strong crosscurrents. By most standards, the economy's performance is solid.

"But a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted earlier this month showed a surprising level of unease among Mr. Bush's supporters despite the solid economy. Among Republicans surveyed, six in 10 said trade has been bad for America, a sign of concern about job losses to overseas competitors. At the same time, some conservatives in the Republican coalition Mr. Bush helped build are drifting away from the party because of heavy federal spending under Republican rule.

"In response, the president has been talking up the economy's strength, as well as lower federal budget deficits, while vowing to veto spending bills from Congress that he considers irresponsible."

On the issue of CEO pay: "Mr. Bush said that some executive compensation is excessive, and that some corporate boards fail to ensure that shareholders know how company funds are being spent. Those practices, he said, can give rise to feelings the economy isn't working fairly for all Americans."

Here is the transcript of the interview.

The CNBC Interview

Bush also sat down with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo yesterday. Here's the video, parts one and two; and the transcript.

"MARIA BARTIROMO: Mr. President, thank you for joining us today. More positive news on the economy. You have a budget deficit that is getting smaller, the trade deficit is shrinking, and yet even with a record stock market, virtually full employment, Americans are nervous. In a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, two-thirds of the American people say that we're either in a recession or headed toward a recession. Why the angst and why can't your administration take--get any of the credit for this good news?

"President GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, we certainly try to explain to the American people that there are some -- that there is good news. There's been 49 consecutive months of job growth, which is the longest stretch in the history of the country. The budget deficit's down to 1.2 percent of GDP, which is extremely low. Americans are working.

"A couple of factors, I think, trouble Americans. One is that there's a lot of churning in the job market. In other words, if you're under 30, you're likely to have had seven jobs by the time you're 30. And older people like me take a look at that kind of volatility or some would call it excitement in the job market, and they wonder whether or not this job turnover is going to affect them. Secondly, there's been concerns about health care. People want to know whether or not, one, the government's going to stay out of their business, and two, whether or not this is going to be good policy that'll enable them to have affordable and available health care.

"People are concerned about their pensions to a certain extent. There's still -- you know, we've transitioned from defined contribution -- or defined benefit to a defined contribution plan. And yet there are still some who are involved with defined, you know, benefits. And they wonder whether or not their promises will be made. So there's a variety of reasons why people are uncertain. But people, when they take a hard look at the statistics and the reality, they ought to, you know, I hope it brings them some comfort to know this economy is strong and it's setting all kinds of records."

Social Security: Not a Chance

Also from the Bartiromo interview:

"BARTIROMO: So is Social Security off the table at this point or will you try to fix it in the remaining time?

"Pres. BUSH: You know, I'd like to, but remember, I'm the person that has laid this issue out in my State of the Union address and talked specifically about how to address Social Security. Whether or not Congress has got the will to step up and try to get something done, I don't know. We'll continue to try. My door's open. I'd like very much for people of both parties to come in and say, 'You know, you gave us a good starting point, you gave us a good idea. Let's get together and get something done.'"

Testy, Testy

Bush's two interviews are part of a new PR push on the economy and trade that also include a photo op with his economic team yesterday and a speech on trade today in Miami.

Bush clearly is getting a little irked at what he considers overly negative coverage.

Pool reporter Todd Gillman of the Dallas Morning News described a telling scene right after the photo op yesterday: "The transcript ends as the pool began to file out, at which point the president smilingly urged: 'Nothing like a little good news for y'all to print up. Put a little good news in your newspapers. Be a novel experience for you.'"

And here, from the Wall Street Journal interview, some more testiness, during the discussion of excessive executive compensation:

"PRESIDENT BUSH: I think the SEC needs to constantly -- and by the way, I've mentioned this to Chairman [Chris] Cox or at least sent him a message along these lines, and I've clearly mentioned it to [Treasury] Secretary [Henry] Paulson -- and that is I want to make sure that the shareholder, when they pick up an annual report, knows exactly what the promises are to the executives running that company. . . .

"WSJ: When did you have that communication?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: I can't remember, John. I've felt that way for quite a while.

"WSJ: So you think this inquiry has been going on for a while now?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: I can't tell you exactly how long the inquiry has been going on, but I can tell you that I've expressed my opinion. And as a matter of fact did it -- if I'm not mistaken, did it in New York City, was it a year ago?


"PRESIDENT BUSH: January. Publicly.

"WSJ: I'm curious, though, if you see --

"PRESIDENT BUSH: Once again, you didn't hear a word I've said.

"WSJ: I wrote the story about that speech.

"PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, thank you. (Laughter.) Just teasing. (Laughter.)"

Income Inequality

Greg Ip writes in the Wall Street Journal: "The richest Americans' share of national income has hit a postwar record, surpassing the highs reached in the 1990s bull market, and underlining the divergence of economic fortunes blamed for fueling anxiety among American workers.

"The wealthiest 1% of Americans earned 21.2% of all income in 2005, according to new data from the Internal Revenue Service. That is up sharply from 19% in 2004, and surpasses the previous high of 20.8% set in 2000, at the peak of the previous bull market in stocks.

"The bottom 50% earned 12.8% of all income, down from 13.4% in 2004 and a bit less than their 13% share in 2000. . . .

"The IRS data go back only to 1986, but academic research suggests the rich last had this high a share of total income in the 1920s. . . .

"In an interview yesterday with The Wall Street Journal, President Bush said, 'First of all, our society has had income inequality for a long time. Secondly, skills gaps yield income gaps. And what needs to be done about the inequality of income is to make sure people have got good education, starting with young kids. That's why No Child Left Behind is such an important component of making sure that America is competitive in the 21st century.'"

Poll Watch

Mara Liasson reports for NPR that "President Bush's job approval rating"-- 38 percent -- "remains anemic, creating a big drag on the Republican Party, a new poll for NPR shows. . . .

"Likely voters have grown even more pessimistic about the direction of the country, according to the bipartisan poll. Sixty-eight percent say the country is on the wrong track, while only 23 percent say it's heading in the right direction."

Respondents were read two statements about the economy and asked which comes closest to their opinion.

Only 30 percent picked this one: "Increasing taxes will hurt the economy. The economy is getting better and creating new jobs. Higher taxes and higher spending will make the housing problem worse and stop companies from adding more jobs."

More than twice as many -- 63 percent -- picked this one: "President Bush's economic policy has been great for big business and the ultra wealthy, but it has left the middle class behind. We need tax cuts for the middle class, universal health coverage and investments in alternative energy to create quality American jobs."

Gore's Prize

Matt Spetalnick writes for Reuters: "Call it Al Gore's revenge.

"The Nobel Peace Prize he won on Friday was a blow to U.S. President George W. Bush and his widely criticized environmental policy and will long be savoured by the man who lost the bitter 2000 presidential election by a whisker.

"The honour was bestowed jointly on the former vice president and the U.N. climate panel for campaigning against the threat of global warming, in a not-so-subtle swipe at Bush, a latecomer to the battle against climate change.

"It may also be interpreted as a part of an international backlash not only against seven years of what many see as environmental backsliding under Bush but also against his Iraq war policy and perceived arrogance in world affairs."

From today's gaggle with White House spokesman Tony Fratto:

"Q Tony, does the President have any reaction to Al Gore's winning the Nobel Prize?

"MR. FRATTO: Yes, the President learned about it this morning. Of course, he's happy for Vice President Gore, happy for the International Panel on Climate Change scientists, who also shared the Peace Prize. Obviously it's an important recognition and we're sure the Vice President is thrilled.

"Q Is he going to call him?

"MR. FRATTO: I don't know of any plans to make calls to any of the winners at this point. . . .

"Q Given that his approach on climate is so different from Al Gore's, does he feel that this award is in any way sending a message about his own policies?

"MR. FRATTO: I'm not sure what -- no, I don't see it that way at all. No."

Curbing the Watchdog?

Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane write in the New York Times: "The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, has ordered an unusual internal inquiry into the work of the agency's inspector general, whose aggressive investigations of the C.I.A.'s detention and interrogation programs and other matters have created resentment among agency operatives.

"A small team working for General Hayden is looking into the conduct of the agency's watchdog office, which is led by Inspector General John L. Helgerson. Current and former government officials said the review had caused anxiety and anger in Mr. Helgerson's office and aroused concern on Capitol Hill that it posed a conflict of interest. . . .

"A report by Mr. Helgerson's office completed in the spring of 2004 warned that some C.I.A.-approved interrogation procedures appeared to constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as defined by the international Convention Against Torture. . . .

"The inspector general's office also rankled agency officials when it completed a withering report about the C.I.A's missteps before the Sept. 11 attack -- a report that recommended 'accountability boards' to consider disciplinary action against a handful of senior officials."

Greg Miller writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The move has prompted concerns that Hayden is seeking to rein in" Helgerson.

Torture Watch

Francis X. Stone writes in a letter to the editor of the Boston Globe: "All of the approaches to interrogation supported by President Bush as 'nontorture' (head slapping, freezing temperatures, water boarding) qualify as torture under international law.

"During my last year in Vietnam, 1968 to '69, I was in charge of US Air Force interrogation of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army prisoners. None of what Bush labels as legal was legal under the Geneva Conventions, to which the United States is still a signatory.

"US Army, Marine, and Army of Republic of Vietnam personnel were constantly amazed at the interrogation results produced by the Air Force, and we were never allowed to touch prisoners, let alone head-slap them. Every human being has needs, and we learned those needs and exploited them. Neither Bush's bullying approach in the Mideast nor his unlawful interrogation program has worked. Sophisticated psychological methods are not being used by the Bush people, so the alleged 'nontorture' bullying will continue."

White House E-Mail Watch

Pete Yost writes for the Associated Press: "An ethics advocacy group asked a federal judge Thursday to order the White House to preserve tapes used to back up its e-mail system.

"Asserting that the White House may not have kept copies of e-mails that are at the heart of a dispute over the Bush administration's record-keeping, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a motion asking for a court order to preserve computer backup tapes.

"'The White House is refusing to confirm that they have maintained e-mail going back to the beginning of the administration as they are required by law to do,' said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics."

About Those Softballs

Jacques Steinberg writes in the New York Times: "A profile of Lynne Cheney, the vice president's wife, that appeared on the CBS News program 'Sunday Morning' last weekend included a statement of disclosure. The correspondent, Rita Braver, told viewers that her husband, the Washington lawyer Robert B. Barnett, had represented Ms. Cheney in the publishing deal for her new memoir, 'Blue Skies, No Fences,' which served as the main peg for the story.

"Yesterday, after questions about the propriety of Ms. Braver's assignment were raised on several media Web sites, including that of CBS News, the division's senior vice president for standards, Linda Mason, defended it. . . .

"But some journalists have suggested CBS News would have been better served by assigning someone whose spouse had no financial ties to Ms. Cheney to do the profile, which included an extended tour of the vice president's home. ('We were the first television crew ever invited into their personal living quarters,' Ms. Braver told viewers.) . . .

"Several blog postings characterized Ms. Braver's profile of Ms. Cheney as soft. Ms. Braver said that, over all, the piece was in keeping with the 'tone' of 'Sunday Morning.' 'We tend not to be confrontational,' she said."

White House Web Site Watch

The White House Web site just can't keep up with all those departures.

Al Kamen writes in The Washington Post: "The odyssey started Oct. 2, when Timothy Noah of Slate (which is owned by The Washington Post) wrote about the 'seat-warmers' occupying the lower-tier Bush Cabinet jobs -- that is, the positions excluding State, Defense, Treasury and Justice.

"He challenged readers on Oct. 2 to match the names and faces he listed with their Cabinet jobs. And he provided the answers so they could check themselves.

"Problem was, a red-faced Noah found out, he got a couple wrong himself. He identified the agriculture secretary as Mike Johanns, but Johanns left on Sept. 20. And Jim Nicholson had left the job of veterans affairs secretary on Oct. 1.

"How could Noah have made this error? Well, he relied on the White House Web site. What was he thinking?

"Noah duly corrected his list. A few days later, the White House corrected the site, with pictures of Chuck Conner as acting secretary of agriculture and acting secretary Gordon H. Mansfield running VA. Peter Keisler was listed as acting attorney general.

"But Wednesday, the White House, in a Sen. Larry Craig-like move, un-resigned Gonzales, re-listing him as attorney general and vaporizing Keisler."

Kamen gets results: Sometime Thursday morning, Keisler reappeared.

Wrong Again

From the " Presidential Message" on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr sent out by the White House yesterday afternoon: "Our Nation is proud to be a land of many beliefs, and our society is enriched by our Muslim citizens. On the first day of Shawwal, the first month of the Islamic calendar, may people of all faiths reflect on the values we hold in common, including love of family, the importance of community, and gratitude to God."

Oops. Two hours later an updated version went out. Shawwal is the tenth month of the Islamic calendar -- not the first.

Carter Redux

Ken Herman blogs for the Cox News Service: "White House reaction to former President Carter's harsh assessment of Vice President Cheney? Not much, other than a demotion.

"This [Thursday] from Press Secretary Dana Perino:

"'I haven't talked to the president about the recent comments by Vice President Carter. Obviously, he's an American citizen and free to express his views. Personal attacks on the vice president are just something that we're not going to comment on. And if the former president chooses to engage in that, we'll let him do that on his own.'"

Hello Dalai Lama

Reuters reports: "U.S. President George W. Bush, risking Chinese anger, will host exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the White House next week.

"Bush will welcome the Dalai Lama on Tuesday, a day before he accepts the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow. . . .

"The award ceremony will be the first time Bush will have appeared in public with the Dalai Lama, who has visited the White House before but always for private meetings."

Bush has hosted the Dalai Lama in the White House private residence three times before, in 2001, 2003 and 2005.

Cheney v. Matthews

Jeff Dufour and Patrick Gavin wrote last week in the Washington Examiner: "Chris Matthews had barely finished praising his colleagues at the 10th anniversary party for his 'Hardball' show Thursday night in Washington, D.C. when his remarks turned political and pointed. . . .

"Bush White House officials -- especially those from Vice President Cheney's office -- called MSNBC brass to complain about the content of his show and attempted to influence its editorial content. 'They will not silence me!' Matthews declared.

"'They've finally been caught in their criminality,' Matthews continued, although he did not specify the exact criminal behavior to which he referred. He then drew an obvious Bush-Nixon parallel by saying, 'Spiro Agnew was not an American hero.'"

Matthews now explains a bit more in an interview with Stephen Battaglio of TVGuide.com:

"Matthews: I thought on the 10th anniversary it would be good to celebrate the First Amendment, which gives us all our living. We reviewed in brief the remarkable experience of covering the Clinton [scandal] and the defense of the war with Iraq. And the difference in these two cases was that although I was extremely tough on Clinton, there was never any attempt to silence me -- whereas there was a concerted effort by [Vice President Cheney's office] to silence me. It came in the form of three different people calling trying to quiet me. . . .

"[T]here was a concerted effort to stop me from reporting on what the vice president's office was doing in terms of making the case that there was a nuclear threat from Iraq."

Cartoon Watch

Steve Sack on Bush's Democratic helpers; Mike Luckovich on Bush's sinking ship.

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