Grading Bush


Some unsurprising evaluations on last night's performance:

Andrew Sullivan:

I've just watched the press conference later on C-SPAN. Not only was the transcript encouraging. I found the president clear, forceful, impassioned, determined, real. This was not an average performance. I found it Bush at his best. He needs to do it more.

Jonah Goldberg:

I thought Bush was fine though. At first I thought the prepared remarks were a bit too down-tempo. But it became clear his comments were building on each other. I think he set the right tone and said the right things.

Glenn Reynolds:

Overall, a pretty good opening speech—though he probably should have given it weeks ago. The first question was a "quagmire" question. "How do you answer the Vietnam question?"

I think Bush handled that pretty well, and he looked confident and quick on his feet (for Bush). More importantly, he seemed sincere, and determined ("tough" was an oft-repeated word), while admitting problems.


…I want one of those magic ties.
…I'm guessing 3 questions max. Karl Rove to TV networks—Suckers! thanks for the free air time…
…Secretary of State Rumsfeld? Well, there's some news I guess…
…oy, I'm convinced now—he has an earpiece.
…damn, I thought On Bended Knee Bumiller was on vacation…
…wow, what a disaster. At least someone woke the Hos up a bit.
…wow, from 'no one could picture planes flying into buildings' to 'Genoa threat' in 1.4 minutes.

The Daily Kos:

Whenever asked about the effects of his actions, Bush answered by affirming his virtuous motives. When asked about a situation or development, Bush answered by referencing himself, often with strange third person-like observations of himself. He failed to give even an approximation of an answer to all but a couple of the questions. And most damning, despite being given numerous opportunities, Bush showed he's constitutionally prohibited from accepting responsibility–not blame, responsibility.

NEXT: Woe Is Media, Pt. 973

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  1. Yesterday Bush stated that a comparison to Viet Nam aided the enemy; this approach (similar to a statement made by Rumsfeld November 2001) – the cry to “shut up” unless the state tells you to speak – reminded me of a poem by Rudyard Kipling:

    The Fabulists

    When all the world would keep a matter hid,
    Since Truth is seldom Friend to any crowd,
    Men write in fable, as old Aesop did,
    Jesting at that which none will name aloud.
    And this they needs must do, or it will fall
    Unless they please they are not heard at all.

    When desperate Folly daily laboureth
    To work confusion upon all we have,
    When diligent Sloth demandeth Freedom’s death,
    And banded Fear commandeth Honour’s grave–
    Even in that certain hour before the fall,
    Unless men please they are not heard at all.

    Needs must all please, yet some not all for need,
    Needs must all toil, yet some not all for gain,
    But that men taking pleasure may take heed.
    Whom present toil shall snatch from later pain.
    Thus some have toiled, but their reward was small
    Since, though they pleased, they were not heard at all.

    This was the lock that lay upon our lips,
    This was the yoke that we have undergone,
    Denying us all pleasant fellowships
    As in our time and generation.
    Our pleasures unpursued age past recall,
    And for our pains–we are not heard at all.

    What man hears aught except the groaning guns?
    What man heeds aught save what each instant brings?
    When each man’s life all imaged life outruns,
    What man shall pleasure in imaginings?
    So it hath fallen, as it was bound to fall,
    We are not, nor we were not, heard at all.

  2. BTW, it should be noted that a DoD publication known as “The Bird” – which compiles stories about the military from press sources to give to busy people like Rumsfeld and leaders in uniform – has decided to stop placing in the publication stories negative of the military or the Bush administration.

  3. JB
    I am no fan of Bush. I do, however, think that he was at his best. I also think the average tenth grader in an american public school could do better. I got the impression he was trying to convince himself of his own BS. I particularly liked his mention of the “suiciders”. I hope fox news takes his lead and begins calling them homiciders. And I do hope he does more of this.:)

  4. -Brian
    I agree that his performance was an improvement.
    One thing that pisses me off was his persuasive tactics to stress the importance to liberate Iraq, as if the primary objective sending our troops into Iraq was for their freedom.

    And what was up with that tie ! I kinda miss the standard solid red.

  5. Boo for putting Reynolds in the same article as Atrios and Daily Kos. Glenn is major league and these two are bush at best. The people who trust these two are so brain-dead that their opinions don’t matter. DK is particular has shown himself to be a total ass.

  6. For the upcoming election I hope the American public snaps back to reality. This administration has lied to us to gain support of this mess we are in and now our troops are paying the price. For what ? At no point was i ever a supporter of Bush or this war yet the direction we are headed towards will need support. The support of our troops, and the support to keep our country free.

  7. Even if you are one who believes we need to stay in Iraq, and most people including Kerry believe that, you would still be troubled by his mantra that we need to stay the course. The problem is he hasn’t explained what that course is and has made mistake after mistake with this occupation. He doesn’t have to convince anyone the need to stay. He needs to convince people we aren’t watching occupation amateur hour.

  8. James Merritt,

    Thank you for your compelling case for voting for the LP candidate for president. I would like to add three of points to it.

    1) Not only has Bush ignored the Constitution in pursuing hyper-interventionist foreign folly, much of his domestic agenda is also divorced from the principles of limited government.(Bush has requested even more total spending than has been approved)

    2)If votes for the LP candidate cost Bush the election, they will “send a message” that eschewing adherence to principle is harmful to the prospects for electoral victory.

    3)If Bush loses, the evidence is that the Republican majorities in congress, assuming that they endure, will restrict the expansion of government in a Kerry administration.

  9. JB, it is trivially true that these comparisons to Vietnam aid the enemy. The only argument in favor of them is they’re so ridiculous that they make the claimant look like a fool.

    But since you want to pull out a quote from everyone’s favorite racist-imperialist, to insult Bush, I’m reminded of one of my favorites from Moliere (which I’ll print in English) that sums up how Bush dealt with all the ridiculous questions asked of him:

    “A wise man is superior to any insults which can be put upon him, and the best reply to unseemly behavior is patience and moderation.”

  10. Many commenters have got it exactly right: Bush’s defenders say he’s just not that articulate, or, even more charitably, that he “talks past elites.” The point is that the problem is merely cosmetic.

    But the real problem is much worse: he absolutely refuses to engage difficult questions, and immediately dives into tired talking points. The main point of these press conferences is not to impart specific information, but to give the public a glimpse into the leaders’ minds. Needless to say, talking points are not constructive to this end.

    These performances really don’t inspire confidence that the President knows what he’s doing.

    What planet are the Sullvans and Instapundits living on?

  11. Jer,

    Kipling is actually generally misunderstood when it comes to the “white man’s burden” (his words were a warning after all); even Edward Said realized that. Furthermore, what was meant to refer to Bush was Kipling’s words, not Kipling as a person; someday you might actually read them instead of living in ignorance.

  12. Why is anyone taking Kos seriously anymore? Why do his comments matter?

  13. Jer,

    BTW, attacking Kipling in this way is known as a tu qouque. A few months ago you argued that “only Europeans” committed this sort of logical fallacy.

    Also, I am also sure that any criticism of Bush (or any other leader in any other country in a time of war or not) “aids” the enemy. However, for Bush to suggest that even in this limited instance (no matter the wisdom of the comment) that people should not criticize his policies is rather a dangerous thing; indeed, “chilling” is the apropos term. So chilling that as I heard on radio stations this morning people asked about their thoughts on the subject, they refused to give their names.

  14. Why is anyone taking Kos seriously anymore? Why do his comments matter?

  15. HH,

    Can you enlighten as to why they wouldn’t?

  16. Wow. I’m going to get to see a coordinated right wing pile on, live on the web. Cool!

  17. Y’know, I was just thinking about what some of the commenters here said about the critical and aggressive nature of some of the questions to Bush last night making Bush look good, and I flashed on the reaction to the first Bush-Gore debate, which Bush apparently “won,” not because he said anything intelligent or impressed anyone but just because Gore came across as a brute and people felt sorry and defensive for Bush. Perhaps that’s W’s greatest strength in his public appearances, a sort of oratory Rope A Dope? But then, there’s gotta be a better metaphor than that, cause for Rope A Dope to work, Ali had to come back punching eventually, whereas Bush scores points just by being a sympathetic punching bag….

  18. Hmmm, maybe it’s the oratory equivalent to the Holyfield Title Defense, where the other guy bites your ear off and gets disqualified!! Except no one would ever accuse Holyfield of being pathetic, or a punching bag. Any other ideas out there?

  19. Jean,

    Because he’s happy when Americans are lynched in Iraq. Therefore, I don’t give a shit what he has to say about anything.

    There, joe, are you happy? I’m not a right-winger, though, and I’m not “coordinating” with anybody. I just think Kos is beneath contempt.

  20. Bush says that Iraq will not turn into a quagmire like Vietnam because he is prepared to send more troops if they are needed. Everyone is so fixated on “quagmire” they forgot about “escalation” which is what Vietnam brings to my mind.

  21. I agree with the assessment that he said essentially nothing. Most bizarre to me was his blatant dodge to a the question that went something like “You indicated that Iraqi oil would pay for reconstruction, Rumsfeld said that he knew where the weapons were – why were you so wrong on these points?” I was expecting something about intelligence failures, but instead got this odd restatement that Hussein is a bad guy.

    On the other side, the Daily Kos in indicating that the administration should accept responsibility but not blame is being a little disingenuous. The distinction, if there is one, is not going to be clear to America at large, and responsibility implies that he should step down in shame or something. Similarly, that obnoxious question last night about, “Why does your administration never admit it made a mistake?” was nothing more than a hatchet job. One can imagine every previous Democrat president being very honest with the American people that such and such was a horrible mistake. Sure.

  22. my favorite part is where he says we have a mandate from the “all mighty” to spread freedom. so, if all the other reasons are wrong, just remember we’re on a freedom crusade.

  23. What planet do Andrew Sullivan and Jonah Goldberg live on? Must be the planet of severe ideological blindness or the planet of spin-at-all-cost. Living in that world has a pernicious dumbing effect on the inmates. What a sad spectacle.
    How can one possibly, with a straight face, try to gloss over the objective failure of our Magnificently Clueless Leader to answer any but perhaps one questions?

  24. Bush appeared to be begging largely; and ignorning questions.

  25. I hadn’t seen anyone dodge oncoming attacks this effectively since Neo in the Matrix.

  26. Bush gets a B for acting passionate enough, but a D- on substance. Kerry also gets a D for his response which was unoriginal and predictable. God save the country!

  27. I don’t see how somebody who does that poorly at a press conference can hope to win a presidential election, absent a great deal of assistance from the press corps.

    And this time around, he’s probably not going to get it.

  28. I believe one of the more pertinent question asked concerned what metric in the future would be used to assess threats, etc. Bush ignored it; or rather, he answered it, without providing an answer.

  29. The difference between Bush talking off the top of his head and Bush reciting memorized boilerplate was striking. His posture, his inflection, his expression, the confidence with which he spoke – it was night and day. I would love to be at the same poker table as this man.

    Is he getting worse, because the press is getting less sycophantic, or has he always been this bad, and I just never noticed because these events are so rare and, up till this point, full of softballs?

  30. Andrew Sullivan – “This was not an average performance. I found it Bush at his best. He needs to do it more”
    I agree completely.

  31. What a hose job!
    He is sure he has PROBABLY made a mistake at sometime, but he can’t think of any!
    I voted for this pinhead.

  32. Not an average performance? Bush at his best? Hmm, it would be terrible to see him at his “average” then; indeed, frightening. 🙂

  33. Reynolds used to have a shred of independence. Now he is just a Republican shill.

  34. America’s bifurcated brain.

  35. I for one liked his enhanced hair doo.
    Puffy with curls like a sweet trustworthy grandfather.
    Not all cold and slick like some damn big city lawer.

  36. I thought he clearly did a solid job of putting his case forward. I’ll be glad to take any bets from all the smart-asses on this forum that the polls will show the American public agrees with me.

  37. Barth,

    Did you think the same thing about the SOTU? The Tim Russert interview?

    Bush’s numbers dropped after each of those events.

    Still want to make that bet?

  38. It was a clear win for Bush. He did a fine job, but was immeasurably helped by the nutty press corps asking unfair, loaded questions (“please explain why you’re such a failure?”) which he had little trouble sweeping aside. To me the story of the night was the press, not Bush–it turned out to be wise to make it a press conference and not just a speech.

  39. To answer your question, joe, the SOTU was a disaster. The Russert thing was a waste of time for everyone involved. The bet is still open–direct polling on the press conference, by the way, not general numbers.

  40. jim-
    seriously, what did you want him to say? The question came down to this, “We think you suck. What do you say to that?” Hatchet very much?

    I thought the most embarassing response was the duck and roll away from “Why are you and the VP testifying to the 9/11 commission together?”

  41. I found myself yelling at the radio during this press conference. I’m not a lover of Bush, but I was prepared to hear him out. Instead we got the standard boilerplate and some fumbling. When he was asked what he would think if he got voted out due to his actions, I wanted him to say, “That’s fine. I’m doing the right thing and I don’t care about whether or not this costs me the election,” I didn’t want to hear, “The American people won’t vote me out.” He was on when he was talking about how he would like to see the MidEast and Iraq move towards, but it was mostly empty rhetoric.

  42. Maybe it’s cause I grew up as a Democrat, but Bush always strikes me as sounding and looking like a wounded puppy dog. His most used word last night was “uh.” Okay, slickness ain’t everything, but I find his desparate groping for words rather painful to witness.

  43. “Not an average performance? Bush at his best? Hmm, it would be terrible to see him at his “average” then; indeed, frightening. :)”

    I think Sullivan was referring to the speech, not the Q&A session.

  44. I also was troubled by the adjacent statements “freedom is a gift of the almighty,” and “it is our obligation to spread it around the world.” Mr. Bush said it was also our obligation to do things like fight AIDS. A moment later, Mr. Bush even used the word, “calling.” Whether he actually meant a “calling from the almighty” (or will own up to meaning it), what else are we to think, when he uses all of these words and phrases in such close proximity to each other?

    The Constitution of the US says that the job of the President is basically to conduct foreign policy (including war, when declared by Congress), and to enforce (or, in the case of veto, sometimes to reject) the laws of Congress. It says that the job of the federal US government is primarily to defend the US (from invasion, rebellion, and attack upon the oceans) and ensure that all the States “play nice” with each other.

    Where is the “obligation” to spread freedom around the world, especially with military troops, funded by taxes? Where, even, is the authority?

    I have watched the video and read the transcript. Mr. Bush demonstrated that he doesn’t understand the job description of President of the US. He has committed billions of dollars and put Americans in harm’s way because of his misunderstanding. Where is Donald Trump to deliver his trademark, two-word coup de gras? Oh well. The Donald is busy revving up for next season. I guess his part will have to be played by the voters in November. Sadly, I don’t think Kerry understands the job any better.

    If the electoral choices make you want to stay home in November, please don’t. Please vote for the Libertarian candidate. Such a vote will do several important things:

    1. Deny the winner a mandate.
    2. Establish a clearly visible constituency for true freedom and constitutionally limited government.
    3. Lead the media to other Libertarian candidates and spokespeople during the next four years, so that they can hold the winner’s feet to the fire and, in the bargain, perhaps get a few more Libertarians elected around the country.

    If you don’t like the LP candidate and want to vote for someone else, fine. I’m not asking you to vote against your conscience or good judgment. But understanding that even a stellar LP candidate probably couldn’t have any bigger splash at this time than Ross Perot did a few years ago, and understanding that Perot’s impact was never enough to get even a single electoral vote, then consider this: if the nominated LP candidate strikes you as a decent person, who says the right things, and you want to see and hear more of that in the years ahead, then please vote for him. Your vote may not elect this person, but it will empower him and those who think and speak like him. That’s not a bad way to invest your vote, is it? Please think about it.

  45. Josh,
    Sullivan had “just watched the press conference” and felt that “Not only was the transcript encouraging. I found the president clear, forceful, impassioned, determined, real. This was not an average performance. I found it Bush at his best. He needs to do it more.” I have no idea what he was smoking, but I want some.

    The speech was good though.

  46. It was a good performance. Not great, but good enough. Especially his opening speech, which set all the right tones and made clear that the government had the resolve to stay the course in Iraq – an important message to send (and one which John Kerry, to his credit, also sent).

    He fumbled a few questions, which was surprising since they were questions that should have been easily anticipated and prepared for. He really doesn’t have a good excuse for wanting to appear before the Commission with Cheney (actually he does – just one he can’t say. The real reason is because he knows that the Democrats on that commission will be trying to ‘catch’ either of them in some trivial inconsistency they can then play up in the media, and Bush isn’t playing that game). But it should have been easy to prepare a response to that question – one they must have known was coming. How about, “The commission has the same questions for both of us, so in the interest of efficiency we requested to sit together and answer them at once. The commission doesn’t have a problem with it, and I’m not sure why you should. Next question?”

    But overall, a good performance. The press kept hammering on him for an ‘apology’, but anyone who knows anything about politics knows what a disaster that would be. If Bush ever once said the word ‘mistake’ or ‘apology’, the press would have their ‘damning soundbite’, and it would be all over the newspapers and cable for days. “BUSH ADMITS MISTAKES!”. I’m sure that one thing his advisors emphasized was that, no matter what happens, do not use the word ‘mistake’. Clinton would have dodged the questions a bit more glibly, but he would have done the same thing.

    But as far as the American people go, what they wanted to hear was, A) The man has a plan, and B) He’s tough as nails about it. Both of those messages got through, and therefore Bush is going to go up in the polls after this.

  47. >A) The man has a plan, and B) He’s tough as nails about it

    I’ll agree that he’s tough as nails about staying the course and looking neither to the side or behind him, but I don’t have much confidence that he has an actual plan.

  48. Dan,

    I, too, think the press is doing a worse than poor job. In their zeal to get the soundbite and push their brand of political correctess, they are largely responsible for guys like you having an objectively ignorant information level.
    Where is Mr. Bush’s plan? Why does he repeat over and over the same war justification statements that have been proven wrong? The right thing to do would have been to never get us into the mess we are in. Now we do have to stay the course, tough as nails, my goodness! Unfortunately every citizen will have to shoulder some of the fallout.
    Of course, if you are driven by pure partisanship, as you seem to be, nothing will enlighten you, you keep good company to Mssrs. Sullivan and Goldberg.

    James Merritt:
    I agree with you on the sad demise of a large part of the Constitution. This, however, is not restricted to one side of the political spectrum. They’re all enthusiastically in it, with the people cheering them on and wanting more. It is so much sexier to mess with the Constitution over gay marriage or flag burning rather than sticking to what has worked well for over 200 years.

    This goes a long way to pointing out some of Mr. Bush’s non-thinking:

  49. Bush definitely showed that he’s overpaid by about $375,000 a year.

    And I don’t want to hear any complaints about tough questions. Bush doesn’t know what tough questions are. And if you pay someone $400,000 a year to do something, and he screws up so consistently, I think you have every right to pose some very tough questions indeed. And get real answers.

  50. -Jon H

    Bush isnt worth a minimum wage position at
    Bush doesnt have any real answers. The desperation in his voice that night didnt assure me of any resolve.

    If Bush is over paid ( which he is:) who would you like to see in his position? Any nominee’s?

    Past or present.

  51. Steve in CA,

    I am not privy to the comments of “kos.”

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