Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Media Gives Bush An Opportunity

The media saw an opportunity yesterday to hit the President--an opening to whack the man they hate so much, and they took it. The problem is that when Bush is engaged in candid conversation about the things in which he believes most strongly, despite the lack of a silver tongue, he can hold his own.

Helen Thomas, the leftist journalist turned leftist columnist had a shot at the president yesterday in his press conference, and rather than asking pointed questions, shot accusations at the President. Here's a clip of their exchange:

Q You're going to be sorry. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, then, let me take it back. (Laughter.)

Q I'd like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is, why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, from your Cabinet -- your Cabinet officers, intelligence people, and so forth -- what was your real reason? You have said it wasn't oil -- quest for oil, it hasn't been Israel, or anything else. What was it?

THE PRESIDENT: I think your premise -- in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist -- is that -- I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect --

Q Everything --

THE PRESIDENT: Hold on for a second, please.

Q -- everything I've heard --

THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, excuse me. No President wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true. My attitude about the defense of this country changed on September the 11th. We -- when we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American people. Our foreign policy changed on that day, Helen. You know, we used to think we were secure because of oceans and previous diplomacy. But we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life.

And I'm never going to forget it. And I'm never going to forget the vow I made to the American people that we will do everything in our power to protect our people.

Part of that meant to make sure that we didn't allow people to provide safe haven to an enemy. And that's why I went into Iraq -- hold on for a second --

Q They didn't do anything to you, or to our country.

THE PRESIDENT: Look -- excuse me for a second, please. Excuse me for a second. They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for al Qaeda. That's where al Qaeda trained --

Q I'm talking about Iraq --

THE PRESIDENT: Helen, excuse me. That's where -- Afghanistan provided safe haven for al Qaeda. That's where they trained. That's where they plotted. That's where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans. I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the Security Council; that's why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed. And the world said, disarm, disclose, or face serious consequences --

Q -- go to war --

THE PRESIDENT: -- and therefore, we worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did, and the world is safer for it.

Q Thank you, sir. Secretary Rumsfeld -- (laughter.)

Q Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: You're welcome. (Laughter.) I didn't really regret it. I
kind of semi-regretted it. (Laughter.)

Q -- have a debate.

Very nicely handled by the President, and then this from Fox News's Carl Cameron:

Q Thank you, sir. On the subject of the terrorist surveillance program --

THE PRESIDENT: Yes.

Q -- not to change the tone from all this emphasis on bipartisanship, but there have been now three sponsors to a measure to censure you for the implementation of that program. The primary sponsor, Russ Feingold, has suggested that impeachment is not out of the question. And on Sunday, the number two Democrat in the Senate refused to rule that out pending an investigation. What, sir, do you think the impact of the discussion of impeachment and censure does to you and this office, and to the nation during a time of war, and in the context of the election?

THE PRESIDENT: I think during these difficult times -- and they are difficult when we're at war -- the American people expect there to be a honest and open debate without needless partisanship. And that's how I view it. I did notice that nobody from the Democrat Party has actually stood up and called for getting rid of the terrorist
surveillance program. You know, if that's what they believe, if people in the party believe that, then they ought to stand up and say it. They ought to stand up and say the tools we're using to protect the American people shouldn't be used. They ought to take their message to the people and say, vote for me, I promise we're not going to have a terrorist surveillance program. That's what they ought to be doing. That's part of what is an open and honest debate.

I did notice that, at one point in time, they didn't think the Patriot Act ought to be reauthorized -- "they" being at least the Minority Leader in the Senate. He openly said, as I understand -- I don't want to misquote him -- something along the lines that, "We killed the Patriot Act." And if that's what the party believes, they ought to go around the country saying we shouldn't give the people on the front line of protecting us the tools necessary to do so. That's a debate I think the country ought to have.

An excellent job by the President. Excellent in the sense that he got out and actually communicated his basis for doing as he is. He had to do battle with a media that was itching for a fight. In all fairness, of course, I think Carl Cameron is a significantly warmer audience for him than the likes of Helen Thomas, but two pretty significant things came out of these exchanges: Bush knows why he is in Iraq and truly believes that we ought to be there, and the Democrats continue to demonstrate in very ominous ways that they cannot be trusted with this nation's security.

Helen Thomas probably needs to hang it up. Because while Bush didn't like her snide remarks and the "Secretary Rumsfeld" thing, he finally had the opportunity to hash out his Iraq position and to candidly and sincerely discuss his belief that what we are doing in Iraq is good, without handlers and speechwriters getting in the way. Thomas's interest in having, per her comments, a "debate" with the President, rather than just asking him questions shows that she is agenda rather than story driven, which makes her seem like little more than Cindy Sheehan with a press pass. But an honest exchange like this is not harmful to Bush, who can communicate very well when he actually gets down to doing it. He needs to send Helen Thomas a thank you note today for giving him the opportunity to make an honest policy declaration and defense for the world to see.

The remarks generated by Carl Cameron's question, however, were a refreshing display of offense tactics. He directed the Democrats to add to their platform that we ought not have a terrorist surveillance program if they really dislike the NSA wiretap program. Campaign on it. And then, finally putting the burden of Harry Reid's recent remarks back on his own shoulders, dared he and his ilk to campaign on a similar platform that we ought not equip those who protect us from terrorists with the tools to do so.

Simple arguments, but they get to a significant point: The Democrats do not have the nerve to campaign on their real beliefs, but in an effort to seem in some way relevant, are trying to score some points against Bush himself. They would not dare to suggest that we expose ourselves to terrorists, especially in an election year. But in order to gain some traction, they throw out partisan measures designed to harm the President individually, but not to stop the NSA wiretap program which is the gravamen of their complaints. And so if the Dems will not step up and attack the programs themselves--the ones that actually protect people from terrorism--all of this censure and impeachment talk becomes more and more clearly the product of nothing more than political sour grapes.

The President has much work to do in order to restore public faith in his work, but exposure like yesterday is the very kind of thing Bush needs to keep doing in order to get public backing behind him. It helps offensive momentum and it is the very kind of thing that, if sustained, can cause real problems for Harry Reid and Howard Dean in November.

ADDENDUM

Tom Bevan's take is much the same, and worth the read. Bush can't afford to be anything less than he was yesterday.

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