Monday, December 12, 2005

That Wasn't So Hard, Was It?

Today, President Bush spoke to the World Affairs Council in Philadelphia. This was almost a tale of two appearances. For about thirty minutes, he gave his standard, discordant spiel about terror/terrorism/terrorists. Then, something strange happened. He stayed and faced questions---apparently random and unscreened---from the audience for about twenty minutes. One person asked why the administration cites 9/11 as justification for the invasion of Iraq. Another asked whether the president believes the war has reduced the threat of terrorism in the U.S. Yet another asked how many Iraqi civilians have been killed in the war; amazingly, and to his credit, the president ventured a guess of 30,000.

The speech was read by a tired, wooden robot. The questions were fielded by a passionate, introspective, knowledgeable chief executive who had no need for notes, scripts, or cues. I didn't agree with much of what he said, but Bush was persuasive and clearly in command of the subject matter.

It is beyond belief that the president's inner circle has shielded him from this sort of interaction for the past few years. This is where he excels. It's how he built his political career. By keeping him in a bubble of teleprompters, platitudes and podium-speak, Bush's handlers have essentially emasculated him and willingly surrendered the president's singular strength. I suspect a significant percentage of previous supporters Bush has lost would love a reason to get behind him again, or at least to get a bit more positive. This White House has done everything possible to prevent that from happening.

So I say again: a town hall meeting in middle America, primetime on a Tuesday night, no scripts, random questions with no prescreening by aides, and families of current servicemen in the audience. A few of those and this president could win back millions he's lost, help his own party in the midterms, and possibly look like a leader again. And if he bombs? A not-exactly-precipitous drop right back to a 35% approval rating.

Give it a try, guys.

50 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "questions" were plants, because Bush refused to field questions when he spoke before people who know their P's & Q's, the Council for Foreign Relations just a few weeks back.

Yes, Bush is a bad speechreader(calling him an orator is an insult to any public speaker) and he has bad speechwriters, but the message is irrelevant, only the projection of a message to distract as the fleecing of America continues.

12/12/2005 6:37 PM  
Anonymous Antonie said...

Is Bush really in charge?

12/12/2005 7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it is true, as Sy Hersh has written in the last issue of the New Yorker, and others have noted, that Bush pursues his mission in Iraq with Messianic zeal; that he sees Iraq, literally, as his personal Crusade, the reason God put him on Earth, then one would expect him to be able to expostulate on the subject with passion and intensity. But that doesn't make it any less appalling——that our Chief Executive is sending the nation's young to be bomb fodder because his god has shown him a sign. Bush's handlers are terrified of turning him loose without a script. They fear the madness of President George could manifest itself at any time, with an impromptu sermon, say, or some kind of God channelling, or a sudden drop to the knees and join me in prayer which, they think, would send Republican fortunes into a spiral dive. Cheney is charged with keeping George on a short leash because no one wants him shitting where they eat.

12/12/2005 8:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

et tu, CR?
After all you know, how can you still be wagged by slick PR???

12/12/2005 9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brian Williams is interviewing him on NBC news tonight. It's a decent interview. Not perfect, but the 'life in a bubble' has been raised, FEMA is currently being discussed (watching in PST, so it's just airing), and Iraq.

I agree that I don't agree with many of his answers, but hearing Bush in his own words and receiving questions that aren't totally glossy is highly refreshing. I don't need to agree with people to respect them, but I do need them to be open and genuine.

12/12/2005 9:51 PM  
Anonymous bluebird said...

I think you're about 140 degrees off on this one, CR. Yes, Bush has moments where he does well unrehearsed, but they are the exception, far from the the rule. Much more commonly he looks like the ill-prepared sophomoric C student that he, in fact, is. And his best moments, rhetorically speaking, have been when he's delivered well-written, thoroughly practiced speeches, like the week after 9-11.

That said, I hope the WH takes your advice and lets him loose to be himself. And I say that not because I am confident he will fall on his face -- hey, maybe I'm wrong, let the chips fall where they may -- but because we should expect no less of OUR elected officials.

12/12/2005 10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hitler was a good speaker too. Who cares how well he answers questions, he's completely ruined the US and most of the rest of the world.

12/12/2005 11:25 PM  
Blogger The Cunning Realist said...

To the "et tu" anon above....I'm cerainly not wagged by slick PR, as I made clear that (no surprise) I continue to disagree with much of what the president says. My post was from two standpoints: first, the absurdity in terms of political strategy in keeping Bush in a non-interactive bubble when his strength is clearly the sort of exchange we saw on Monday; and second, the arrogance in allowing him to live in that bubble when wartime demands accountability. Just because as a citizen I respond positively to a bit of long-overdue candor does not mean I'm convinced by it, but let's recognize that some are.

12/13/2005 12:07 AM  
Blogger Ahistoricality said...

I'm sorry, CR, I'm reading over the transcript and there's nothing there. It's the same boilerplate the administration has been pushing for three years now: of course he sounds fluent and in command, because it's material that he's rehearsed and regurgitated a thousand times.

Sure, he'd probably buck up his numbers if he played his "sincerity card" (though personally, I still can't get past the smirk, and the fact that none of the answers really work), but to what end? And your suggestion is just political suicide: these questions were pretty much softballs, all things considered, with no followups and no fact-checking. A really unscripted exchange with the 2/3rds of the country which has serious doubts would very rapidly require that he go beyond what he knows really well, and wouldn't work.

No, the bubble works. Much better than the alternatives.

12/13/2005 2:05 AM  
Anonymous bluebird said...

ahistorically is, imo, dead-on right, CR. I'm still interested in hearing on what you base your perception that Bush is good unrehearsed, thinking on his feet. Seems to me that assertion flies in the face of most of what we've seen from the man. Care to give us a little more exposition about your premise?

12/13/2005 2:22 AM  
Blogger The Cunning Realist said...

Bluebird, as someone who has followed Bush's political career since his early days in Texas, I know he can be just as charming and persuasive a politician in his own way as Clinton (you and I may not respond to it, but a large swath of this country does, of course). What's happened over the past few years is that his handlers have systematically and inexplicably removed him from the type of situations in which he excels. The result of that is the few times he's been forced to think on his feet sans script or teleprompter---the debates against Kerry being a prime example---he's flopped. His advisers have extrapolated those flops to create a blanket policy of keeping him out of any situations that are unscripted or unscreened. But there is a world of difference between a high-pressure response to a debate question or a Rose Garden press query, and the back-and-forth casual interaction with an audience at a speech (or, preferably in the future, a town hall meeting) that got this man elected in the first place.

None of this is an endorsement of what Bush is saying on its merits. It's simply an observation that in terms of pure political strategy, the inner circle of the White House has been its own worst enemy in getting its message out. If they were to "dance with the girl that brung 'em" and remember what got them to DC in the first place, the potential exists to turn things around from a purely PR perspective. Could it be too late for that? Possibly.

12/13/2005 4:23 AM  
Anonymous juaniflaco said...

let's hope so...he's done irreparable damage to this country and everyone's goal at this point should be to marginalize him

A little off topic, but the very fact that it's all Iraq, all the time when we have such pressing problems here (New Orleans, anyone?)
is the real problem. Why does no one in the media call him on that?

12/13/2005 8:13 AM  
Anonymous semper fubar said...

I suspect that Bush is not nearly as stable as he was back when he was governor of TX. Perhaps it's the pressures of the job (my understanding is that the TX governorship is not a particularly powerful position, as governoships go) or perhaps there really is some underlying medical problem.

But either way, I think the people who know Bush best, his White House handlers, are probably well aware that they can not take the risk of letting him fly solo. He might have his moments of lucidity, but he proably has many moments of losing control too.

12/13/2005 11:48 AM  
Anonymous grass root said...

He's like the boyfriend who has lied, taken money, lied, slept around, lied and wrecked my car. One day he shows up with a motly bouquet and oh, all is forgiven! Please!

12/13/2005 11:49 AM  
Blogger copy editor said...

A diplomat in England (name escapes, sorry) recently published some of his memoirs in the Guardian. He said Bush had a commanding knowledge of foreign affairs (pre 9/11) and conducted discussions well with Blair.

No idea why they didn't bring it out into the public earlier.

12/13/2005 12:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But wouldn't it get in the way of repeating it enough and they will believe it? Ok, maybe they don't any longer.

12/13/2005 3:20 PM  
Anonymous semper fubar said...

He said Bush had a commanding knowledge of foreign affairs (pre 9/11) and conducted discussions well with Blair.

I find that very hard to believe.

12/13/2005 5:32 PM  
Anonymous bluebird said...

CR - Points well taken. But I think Semper Fubar is right in that Bush may well not be as stable today as he was earlier in his career, and, perhaps related, I'd suggest there's a world of difference between being glib and charming as a not-so-important governor or a candidate for president and actually being the president, and that difference is compounded umpteen times by having to defend what is arguably the greatest incompetence and worst strategic decision-making ever exhibited by a modern American president.

In other words, he may have been excellent and confident while schmoozing with his pals in Texas or kibitzing with the press as a critic of the Clinton administration, but now he is way, way, way out of his league. And he’s cracking under the strain, big time. No amount of handling, whether restricting or empowering him, can change these underlying dynamics.

12/13/2005 6:32 PM  
Blogger wendyo said...

I was in France (in the graveyard at Normandy, actually) when I heard about 911. The silence from Bush in the first 24 hours was deafening. I remember thinking at the time that they had spirited him away to Nebraska (or wherever) because an event of such magnitude needed a Churchillian-like oratory response from our "Commander-in-Chief" that Bush clearly wasn't capable of. It took at least a week of prep and scripting before he could address the nation. (I was home by then.)

I'm not with you,CR, on Bush being a guy who can think on this feet and speak candidly, unless it if about sports or frat boy banter.

12/13/2005 10:22 PM  
Blogger unmitigated audacity said...

You say you don't agree with much he said. You've bitterly critisized his policies. The man is dragging down our once-great country on so many levels. Yet you are for a media strategy to lift this idiot's approval rating? I respect your posts and your evident passionate involvement in the big issues of the day. However, party loyality for this cretin has the potential to give him the margin to put this country so far in the hole that we'll never get out - on so many levels; economically, foreign policy-wise. The immediate task at hand is to force Cheney and his crew out, Rumsfeld in tow. Then surround Bush with some sane, decent advisors to get the nation through the next few years. Either that, or impeach him in '06 if we can't get some sanity and competence out of this administration. The country won't survive in any viable condition the coming economic tsunami with these bozos in charge. You know of what I speak. Get real.

12/13/2005 11:03 PM  
Anonymous bluebird said...

OK, one last try, CR. I saw some of Bush's speech on Democracy Now tonight, from the Q&A section that you admired. And I also read much of the transcript of that section. Sorry to say, but it now appears to me you are not 140 degrees off on this one, as I first opined, but more like 176 degrees. He was terrible, period. Repeated the SAME GODDAMNED SIMPLISTIC BULLSHIT HE'S BEEN SAYING FROM DAY ONE. What the hell did you find worthy of your valuable praise? Jeez, I think we're all so dumbed down by this clown that we see the slightest up-tick in his synapse-gap time as cause for celebration.

12/14/2005 3:01 AM  
Anonymous semper fubar said...

bluebeard- the bar is pretty damn low these days, isn't it?

I saw a snippet of Brian Williams o-pining about his Bush interview, and, with glowing admiration, he said something to the effect that "here is a man who is comfortable in his own skin.. blah blah blah."

I thought to myself (actually, I yelled out to mr. fubar) "So THAT's the standard of excellence we've set for the President of the United States of America? He's comfortable being HIM? He's the freakin' President! He's fifty-freakin-nine years old, and it's OK that the best we can say is "He's comfortable in his own skin????!!!"

Oy.

Sorry, didn't mean to get all worked up.

12/14/2005 11:31 AM  
Anonymous semper fubar said...

Ooops- in my rage, I called you "bluebeard" not "bluebird." My apologies, and no offence meant! :-)

12/14/2005 11:33 AM  
Anonymous juaniflaco said...

CR, this post was inexplicable...bush's policies are beyond redemption, you seem to feel that way. Why should anyone care at this point what the PR offensive is doing? This is an administration which spends 100% of its energy on PR, and nothing on governance.

12/14/2005 4:23 PM  
Anonymous bluebird's beard said...

semper fubar - no problem, indeed it's kinda funny, cuz just the other day i actually used 'bluebeard' on some blog.

as for william's comment that bush is 'comfortable in his skin'... well, first of all, i think that's a quality this is rare, admirable and meaningful. but bush is anything but comfortable in his skin! jeez, just watch the guy as he shuffles, fidgets, blinks his eyes rapidly when he's stressed, repeats the same deeply grooved mechanical behaviorisms, stumbles in half his sentences. i saw brian williams make that statement on matthews' show the other nite and thot 'what the hell are you talking about???' it really had me stumped.

i just don't get why these media people, so many of them anyway, keep fawning over and giving the benefit of every doubt to this man. really, it's beyond my ken.

12/15/2005 1:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

seems rather schizophrenic TCR...-"God less you" and just below that painfull entry, encouragement, toward a re-invigorated Bush presidency....
Sure why not. Perhaps W can then finish the job --and put Amerika out of it's misery.

12/15/2005 1:37 AM  
Anonymous chris from boca said...

lol. yes, give it a try by all means. you are being funny, right? you're not serious, are you? bush speaking with folks and interacting is his strong suit?

lol. that's a good one. i thought you were the cunning REALIST. c'mon.

12/15/2005 5:45 PM  
Anonymous KevinNYC said...

CR,

The reason they keep Bush away from unscripted moments is twofold. One is when Bush is not prepped he can look really, really stupid.
Fool me once, .....won't get fooled again.

Much, more important is not that, Bush's base can forgive gaffes, it's the ugly side of Bush's personality. The ugly, fratboyish sarcasm, the insecurity that needs to surround himself with yes-men and, mostly, yes-women. The "major-league asshole" guy. The crash-the-car on the lawn and call Dad out to go mano-a-mano guy. Karl Rove has known this from the beginning of Bush's career and has gotten Bush to play up his better side. But that has to be tiring. Rove has built this image of a good man, a man of faith, etc, etc. His first screenwriter was excellent at that by the way. But the truth seems to be that Bush is a dick and a pain in the ass to work for. Any given afternoon that could be shattered on live TV by Bush. Remember how unhinged Bush got in that interview for Irish television. The only reason they have Bush out there now is 38% approval ratings. You have to gamble and go for the long ball. If Bush were in the mid -40's, it would be too much of a risk.

12/15/2005 6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh please.. you make me shudder. The last thing this country needs is for Bush to be out there convincing the country of the rightness of his ideas.
I fully agree that Bush has charisma, and can be convincing; however, his ideas are extremely dangerous.
Let the 4th Reich die on the vine---please, don't encourage anything that will help Bush achieve his goals.

12/15/2005 8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the bar sure is set low for the presidents "base" and the desperately wanting to believe republicans hoping to save face over this giant cluster fuck they've made of the nation!

no wonder we are done.

feral

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