Bush's Ghost

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, October 8, 2008; 11:38 AM

Maybe they should have made a place for President Bush at last night's debate, so that he could respond to all the gibes -- from both sides.

Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidate John McCain each summoned Bush repeatedly. Obama savaged the Bush legacy and argued that a McCain presidency would be de facto third Bush term. McCain, meanwhile, urgently tried to create a sense of distance from his party's profoundly unpopular leader.

From the transcript, here is Obama on the current economic crisis: "I believe this is a final verdict on the failed economic policies of the last eight years, strongly promoted by President Bush and supported by Sen. McCain, that essentially said that we should strip away regulations, consumer protections, let the market run wild, and prosperity would rain down on all of us."

Here's McCain on his proposal that the government buy up all the country's bad home mortgages: "[I]t's my proposal, it's not Sen. Obama's proposal, it's not President Bush's proposal."

Obama on how we got here: "I think it's important just to remember a little bit of history. When George Bush came into office, we had surpluses. And now we have half-a-trillion-dollar deficit annually. When George Bush came into office, our debt -- national debt was around $5 trillion. It's now over $10 trillion. We've almost doubled it. And so while it's true that nobody's completely innocent here, we have had over the last eight years the biggest increases in deficit spending and national debt in our history. And Sen. McCain voted for four out of five of those George Bush budgets."

Obama on the idea of shared national sacrifice: "[After 9/11,] President Bush did some smart things at the outset, but one of the opportunities that was missed was, when he spoke to the American people, he said, 'Go out and shop.' That wasn't the kind of call to service that I think the American people were looking for."

McCain on climate change: "[W]hen we have an issue that we may hand our children and our grandchildren a damaged planet, I have disagreed strongly with the Bush administration on this issue."

McCain on bucking the president: "[There] was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies, and it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney. You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one. You know who voted against it? Me."

Obama on the constraints of America's ability to act as a peacemaker: "[T]he strains that have been placed on our alliances around the world and the respect that's been diminished over the last eight years has constrained us being able to act on something like the genocide in Darfur, because we don't have the resources or the allies to do everything that we should be doing. That's going to change when I'm president, but we can't change it unless we fundamentally change Sen. McCain's and George Bush's foreign policy. It has not worked for America."

And Obama on talking to our enemies: "When President Bush decided we're not going to talk to Iran, we're not going to talk to North Korea, you know what happened? Iran went from zero centrifuges to develop nuclear weapons to 4,000. North Korea quadrupled its nuclear capability."

Retro Spin Watch

Al Kamen writes in The Washington Post that the Bush administration is apparently engaged in a government-wide effort at retrospective spin on its way out the door: "[A]n e-mail went out last week to government agencies to get working on a project to lay out 'THE BUSH RECORD.' It came with a handy 'rollout strategy.' . . .

"'Please provide a one or two paragraph summary,' the e-mail instructs, 'on the overarching communications strategy for your Department. This section should also list any broad, overarching products you plan to produce (e.g., a document listing your Department's major accomplishments over the past eight years, a video of Department successes, etc.).'

"Under the heading 'Strategy,' the e-mail instructs that the 'next section should list the key topics your Department plans to highlight, broken out under the three main themes of "Kept America Safe & Promoted Liberty Abroad," "Lowered Taxes & Reformed Government," and "Stood on Principle/Tackled Tough Issues/Showed the Way Ahead."' . . .

"Asked about this, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said that, at the end of an administration, it was 'only natural to collect data' that reporters will need for their retrospectives. 'We'd like to have lots of information ready on the bigger picture,' he said, so people are aware that during the Bush years 'minority education test scores went up or that teenage drug use is down 18 percent.'"

Bush's Words

Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush on Tuesday told a country engulfed by dire economic news that it should not expect a sudden recovery, but rather a gradual rebound that will test people's patience.

"Pounding home a sober tone, Bush said about a dozen times that the nation is enduring 'tough times.'

"'I know that the days are dim right now for a lot of folks,' Bush said. 'But I firmly believe tomorrow is going to be brighter.'

"Just not literally tomorrow."

Here's the transcript. Bush took questions from the friendly audience. The New York Times reports: "The questions were personal and from the heart: 'Mr. President, is my bank account safe?' 'Mr. President, what do you think is going to happen to my 401(k)?' 'What would be your advice to the small-business community?'

"President Bush counseled patience, and tried to sound reassuring. But as he answered those questions and others, in a frank and sometimes poignant exchange with leaders and employees of Guernsey Office Products in Chantilly, Va., Mr. Bush found it difficult to offer much solace, other than to say the $700 billion package signed into law last week would ease the credit crisis -- eventually.

"'I wish I could snap my fingers and make what happened stop,' the president said to the man who asked his advice to small-business owners. 'But that's not the way it works.'

"To a man who asked about his 401(k), Mr. Bush said, 'I think, in the long run, they're going to be fine,' though he added, 'And in the short term, they're going to take a hit.'"

Fredrick Kunkle writes in The Washington Post: "The question is whether anyone was listening -- and if they were, whether his words mattered -- as a couple of hours later Wall Street stocks again plummeted. Even some listeners in the overwhelmingly friendly audience were uncertain. . . .

"Before making his pitch, . . . he met privately with a small group of business leaders who told him about problems they have encountered since credit began drying up.

"Several urged him to be more visible and take charge in restoring confidence, a participant said.

"David M. Guernsey, president and chief executive of the Chantilly-based firm, described Bush as a 'take-charge guy' during a private meeting with about 10 area business people.

"'He said: "Open it up, guys. Just ask me whatever." And so we did,' Guernsey said. Participants asked questions about Bush's 'visibility.'

"'And he was so positive in that room,' Guernsey said. 'And several of the people said, 'You know what, Mr. President, go out there and say that to the American people. The way you are here, that certainty, that resolve -- project that out.' And he did that at the podium. He was very forceful in that sense.'"

James Gerstenzang blogs for the Los Angeles Times: "A President Bush speech on the economy these days is a cross between reality TV and a 1930s musical:

"It's a tough world out there, but sunny days are coming. Just hang in there.

"Or, as Bush put it today: 'I know that the days are dim right now for a lot of folks. But I firmly believe tomorrow is going to be brighter.'"

Stan Collender blogs that "it's far too late, and there's been far too much economic and financial water under the bridge, for the Bush administration to reestablish its own credibility on the economy in any way. That's why, from a communications perspective, the White House needs to find someone with that credibility who will lead its public efforts.

"In other words. . . . The Bush administration needs to rent someone else's credibility for three months by naming an economic crisis czar."

Gitmo Watch

Del Quentin Wilber writes in The Washington Post: "A federal judge yesterday ordered a small band of Chinese Muslims being held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison released into the United States by Friday, rejecting the Bush administration's contention that it could detain them indefinitely without cause. . . .

"'Because the Constitution prohibits indefinite detention without cause, the government's continued detention of the [detainees] is unlawful,' [U.S. District Judge Ricardo M.] Urbina said. 'Because separation-of-powers concerns do not trump the very principle upon which this nation was founded -- the unalienable right to liberty -- the court orders the government to release the [men] into the United States.'"

William Glaberson writes in the New York Times: "'I think the moment has arrived for the court to shine the light of constitutionality on the reasons for detention,' Judge Urbina said.

"Saying the men had never fought the United States and were not a security threat, he tersely rejected Bush administration claims that he lacked the power to order the men set free in the United States and government requests that he stay his order to permit an immediate appeal. . . .

"The White House press secretary, Dana Perino, said the administration was 'deeply concerned by, and strongly disagrees with' the decision. She added that the ruling, 'if allowed to stand, could be used as precedent for other detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, including sworn enemies of the United States suspected of planning the attacks of 9/11, who may also seek release into our country.' . . .

"Judge Urbina's decision came in a habeas corpus lawsuit authorized by a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June that gave detainees the right to have federal judges review the reason for their detention."

Torture Watch

Pamela Hess writes for the Associated Press: "A U.S. military officer warned Pentagon officials that an American detainee was being driven nearly insane by months of punishing isolation and sensory deprivation in a U.S. military brig, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

"While the treatment of prisoners at detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan and Iraq have long been the subject of human rights complaints and court scrutiny, the documents shed new light on how two American citizens and a legal U.S. resident were treated in military jails inside the United States.

"The Bush administration ordered the men to be held in military jails as 'enemy combatants' for years of interrogations without criminal charges, which would not have been allowed in civilian jails.

"The men were interrogated by the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency, repeatedly denied access to attorneys and mail from home and contact with anyone other than guards and their interrogators. They were deprived of natural light for months and for years were forbidden even minor distractions such as a soccer ball or a dictionary. . . .

"Yale Law School's Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic received the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by two attorneys Jonathan Freiman and Tahlia Townsend, representing another detainee, Jose Padilla. The Lowenstein group and the American Civil Liberties Union said the papers were evidence that the Bush administration violated the 5th Amendment's protections against cruel treatment. The U.S. military was ordered to treat the American prisoners the same way prisoners at Guantanamo were treated, according to the documents."

Civil Liberties Watch

Eric Lichtblau writes in the New York Times: "A federal panel of policy makers and scientific experts urged a government-wide evaluation Tuesday of programs that sift through databases looking for clues on terrorism, to determine whether the programs are effective and legal.

"The federal government has made aggressive use of so-called data-mining tools since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as counterterrorism officials in many intelligence agencies have sought to analyze records on travel habits, calling patterns, e-mail use, financial transactions and other data to pinpoint possible terrorist activity.

"The National Security Agency's program for wiretapping terror suspects without warrants, the screening of suspicious airline passengers and the Pentagon's ill-fated Total Information Awareness program, shut down by Congress in 2003 because of privacy concerns, have all relied on aspects of data mining.

"But in a 352-page government study released on Tuesday, a committee of the National Research Council warned that successfully using these tools to deter terrorism 'will be extremely difficult to achieve' because of legal, technological and logistical problems. It said a haphazard approach to using such tools threatened both Americans' privacy rights and the country's legitimate national security needs."

CNN reports that the study also cast doubt on the concept of "behavior detection," saying it, too, has "enormous potential" for infringing on law-abiding Americans' privacy. "Behavior detection, used by the Transportation Security Administration and some police departments to isolate possible criminals from crowds, likewise falls short of meeting scientific standards, the group said."

Iraq Watch

Charles Levinson and Ali A. Nabhan write in USA Today: "Negotiations over a long-delayed security agreement between the United States and Iraq hinge on one main sticking point: the extent U.S. troops can be prosecuted in Iraqi courts.

"U.S. and Iraqi officials have said for months that a deal governing the long-term presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is imminent. A visit to Baghdad by John Negroponte, the No. 2 official at the State Department, prompted assurances from both sides that most contentious points have been ironed out. 'The hanging issue is the issue of immunity, but there has been progress on that,' Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in Baghdad. . . .

"Al-Bayati said the United States has agreed to Iraqi demands that U.S. troops be given full immunity only for crimes committed on U.S. bases or during joint military operations with Iraqi forces.

"Any U.S. servicemember who commits a crime off base or during an operation that hasn't been signed off on by the Iraqi government would be tried in an Iraqi court, according to the working draft, al-Bayati said."

Complete immunity for U.S. servicemembers had previously been considered non-negotiable by the Bush team.

So Much for 'Victory'

Jonathan S. Landay, Warren P. Strobel and Nancy A. Youssef write for McClatchy Newspapers: "A nearly completed high-level U.S. intelligence analysis warns that unresolved ethnic and sectarian tensions in Iraq could unleash a new wave of violence, potentially reversing the major security and political gains achieved over the last year. . . .

"Word of the draft NIE comes at a time when Iraq is enjoying its lowest levels of violent incidents since early 2004 and a 77 percent drop in civilian deaths in June through August 2008 over the same period in 2007, according to the Defense Department.

"U.S. officials say last year's surge of 30,000 troops, all of whom have been withdrawn, was just one reason for the improvements. Other factors include the truce declared by anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of an Iran-backed Shiite Muslim militia; and the enlistment of former Sunni insurgents in Awakening groups created by the U.S. military to fight al Qaida in Iraq and other extremists.

"The draft NIE, however, warns that the improvements in security and political progress, like the recent passage of a provincial election law, are threatened by lingering disputes between the majority Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, Kurds and other minorities, the U.S. officials said."

Afghanistan Watch

Eric Schmitt writes in the New York Times: "An investigation by the military has concluded that American airstrikes on Aug. 22 in a village in western Afghanistan killed far more civilians than American commanders there have acknowledged, according to two American military officials.

"The military investigator's report found that more than 30 civilians -- not 5 to 7 as the military has long insisted -- died in the airstrikes against a suspected Taliban compound in Azizabad."

I wrote in my August 28 column about how that airstrike led Afghan President Hamid Karzai to call for some limits on what Bush can do in his country.

'Comrade Bush'

Tyler Bridges writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "They don't call him President Bush in Venezuela anymore.

"Now he's known as 'Comrade.'

"With the Bush administration's Treasury Department resorting to government bailout after government bailout to keep the U.S. economy afloat, leftist governments and their political allies in Latin America are having a field day, gloating one day and taunting Bush the next for adopting the types of interventionist government policies that he's long condemned."

Cheney Watch

John Nichols writes in an opinion piece in the Capital Times of Madison, Wis.: "As a biographer of Dick Cheney and the author of a history of presidential power, I've spent the past few years not just pondering but worrying about the current vice president's determination to expand the authority and reach of his office -- and in so doing to tip the balance of the separation of powers in favor of a supercharged 'unitary executive.'

"Cheney has, since he served in the House in the 1980s, outlined a vision of an executive branch that is the dominant force in federal government. He has rejected the system of checks and balances that the Founding Fathers established as an essential protection against the sort of monarchical abuses that inspired the American Revolution. . . .

"The majority of Americans tell pollsters that they favor moves by Congress to constrain Cheney and surveys suggest that he may well be the most feared and unpopular vice president in the history of the republic.

"Yet, in her first and only vice presidential debate, Sarah Palin embraced Cheney's vision of an expanded vice presidency and actually proposed expanding on it. . . .

"Not only does Sarah Palin fail to recognize the danger, she proposes to increase it.

"In so doing, she has added an important factor that Americans will need to consider in November when they choose between the Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin tickets:

"Do they want change, or more Cheney?"

Bush and God

Robert Scheer writes in his syndicated opinion column: "I am not a conventionally religious man, or even a very superstitious one, but I do wish George W. Bush would stop asking God to bless America.

"Every time he does, we seem to be visited with another plague, suggesting divine wrath over our president's evil ways. How else to explain the persistent calamity that has marked this administration: a pointless but very costly war over nonexistent Iraqi WMD, the destruction by flood of New Orleans, the betrayal of the nation by the moneychangers - from Enron to Goldman Sachs - who Bush welcomed into the temple of the White House?

"What's next? Pestilence, frogs, locusts or incurable boils?"

Pink House Watch

Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts write in The Washington Post: "In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Laura Bush turned the White House pink for four hours. . . .

"[T]he north facade was illuminated in pink-- the first time in history (well, that anyone can remember) that the mansion has been awash in any color."

Johanna Neumann blogs for the Los Angeles Times with a photo and video.

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Late Night Humor

Jay Leno via U.S. News: "Well, with all...of the excitement about the election, it's easy to forget about President Bush." But "next year, he'll be unemployed and he'll be at that awkward age -- too young to retire, yet too old to decimate another nation's economy."

Cartoon Watch

Ann Telnaes on Bush the duck, Mike Keefe on Bush's sage advice, Daniel Wasserman on guilt by association, Alan Moir on the Bush legacy, and Joel Pett on Bush's Nobel prize hopes.

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