Bush at the UN

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The Christian Science Monitor has a punditry roundup of reactions to President Bush's United Nations speech. No surprises: Most national and international media unimpressed, Washington Times and National Review impressed.

The Guardian, with comments on full autopilot, objects that the address "appeared essentially tailored for a domestic audience rather than foreign consumption." This may be true of the portions dealing—in the vaguest possible terms—with Iraq and Afghanistan, the recommendation to get tough on the Palestinians (who have thus far been living the life of Riley, apparently), or the joke about how human rights "are advancing across the world."

But the full text of the speech contains plenty of skylarking about a global fund for fighting TB and malaria, third world aid grants, the "Millennium Challenge Account," stronger laws against human trafficking, and a pan-African peacekeeping force. For all I know, these may all be fine ideas, but if The Guardian thinks this is stuff a domestic U.S. audience knows about, cares about, or in any other way pays attention to, then Americans aren't the only ones who don't know what's going on beyond their own borders.

My own feelings about the speech are… well, I don't know how to write "ZZZZZZ!" in a non-proportional font. Maybe it was better to hear than to read.

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  1. Actually, the sex workers thing is for domestic consumption. Something that has been largely ignored by the mainstream press is that the US is on an international crusade to wipe out prostitution as a sop to the fundies. (It’s usually couched in terms of “sex slavery”, “child prostitution”, etc., except that if you check the language of the American proposed conventions/agreements/treaties/etc. they also effectively ban consensual, adult prostitution as well.)

  2. I saw the speech, and, no, seeing it and hearing it didn’t make it any better.

    As I watched, I was struck again by the realization that the only information we seem to get anymore about what the President thinks and why he thinks it is either by way of one of these sleep inducing speeches or siphoned through a pundit or through some other indirect route. What ever happened to the Presidential press conference?

    For those of you too young to remember, the President used to come out to the press room every once in a while, take questions from the White House press corps and answer them on live television.

    When, exactly, did this format die?

    I remember George Bush, Sr. having press conferences. Was it Clinton? Did he kill the Presidential press conference? Is it dead forever?

  3. Coincidentally, I ran across the following news story that amplifies my point above: http://www.nbc30.com/news/3750781/detail.html

    (The DoD is proposing a change to the Uniform Code of Military Justice to make contact with a prostitute punishable by court martial.)

  4. SR,

    Actually the “anti-human trafficking” proposals are a sop to ashcroft types and left wing feminists. I recall an article about the topic by a womens studies professor at a New England college that was posted on NRO. Kathryn Lopez was gushing about the article. When fundies and feminists are on the same side, you know liberty is threatened. I don’t know two more intolerant groups than those two.

  5. I’m impressed that the topic switched so quickly to prostitution. Well, as long as we’re on the subject of religious fundamentalists trying to restrict individual liberty because their desert god said so, could I get a shout-out from rst?

    Oh, wait, the fundamentalists in question here are Christians. Never mind.

  6. What ever happened to the Presidential press conference?

    The American press corps happened to it.

  7. I remember George Bush, Sr. having press conferences. Was it Clinton? Did he kill the Presidential press conference?

    Not hardly. Clinton slowed things down to two per month after GHWB’s three-a-month average, but other than GHWB, Clinton held more per month on average than any president since Johnson. (Truman was the last prexy to average more press conferences per month than GHWB; GWB is around Clinton’s pace.)

    The real slackers were Nixon and Reagan (~.5/month).

    The American press corps happened to it.

    GWB’s beloved daddy seemed to hold his own well enough.

  8. Tim:

    ZZZZZZ!

    Use the <pre> tag. <code> also usually works.

  9. Thanks for the link Ernie!

    I can see from the paper that part of what I feel like I’m missing is from the format of the press conferences. They don’t do solos the same way anymore, etc.

    Still, of the 14 solo press conferences Bush Jr. has given, I don’t remember seeing them. Then again, I started working full time during the Bush Sr. Administration which helps explain why I don’t remember seeing Clinton and Bush Jr. live.

  10. Tim, I think the Guardian was referring to the litany of “feel good” proposals that are stock for Bush’s speeches. I mean, do you think Americans know and care about the Mission to Mars, the hydrogen-fueled Freedom Car, and the crack down on dangerous steriods?

    Ideas aren’t important, it’s just to create a warm and fuzzy feeling.

  11. GWB’s beloved daddy seemed to hold his own well enough.

    Which, amusingly enough, illustrates what the problem with press conferences is.

    Sure, GHWB “held his own”. GWB has “held his own” in the few conferences he’s given, too. The question is: why would the President want to put himself in a situation where he has to “hold his own” against a hostile and self-obsessed press corps?

    The press needs press conferences. Politicians trying to make a name for themselves need press conferences. Nobody else needs press conferences.

  12. Did you catch W’s speech of about two days ago; I think it was the one in Derry, NH. I saw it on C-SPAN. He (W) was in his shirtsleeves (butch, huh?) at a podium in front of bleachers full of “supporters”. Well, in the very back row of the bleachers I spied The Yawning Kid and five or six of his best friends – or maybe they were relatives. These boys were clearly acting up, not paying attention to the BORING speech until the listening part of the audience would respond – then the boys snapped to for momentary “boos” or “yeahs” then went back to their game of slap and tickle. The Yawning Kid even put his head down like he was going to fall asleep (again). It was like BC04 meets “Groundhog Day.” I swear it looked like the very same kid. Check it out for yourownself.

  13. “The Guardian, with comments on full autopilot”

    Are we sure that the The Guardian wrote their comments after the speech?

    As for press conferences, I’m with Dan on this one. Press releases and formal speeches are much better guides to policy than “are you still beating your wife” questions from the press.

    Press conference seem more for the benefit of the careers and egos of the press members than for informing the people. When was the last time a press conference coughed up some real information? Big stories out of press conference seem to be about nothing but the occasional verbal gaffe regardless of who the politician is.

    I’ll even give Kerry a pass on not talking to the press of month or more. As long as somebody answers the questions, who cares if it happens in press conference or not?

  14. Shannon-

    I think there’s something to be said for a situation where people have to answer questions off the cuff rather than delivering pre-packaged, focus-group-approved statements. Sure, it can be hell for a person who’s thought things through but isn’t very articulate. On the other hand, it can also catch a person who hasn’t really thought things through and is just delivering a line of BS.

    For instance, if a person says “I plan to do X” but really plans to do Y, detailed questions pertaining to X will probably cause him to either mess up or start getting evasive.

    Besides, as bad as the press can be, I think there’s something disturbing in a politician who views them as mere nuisances. The press, for all of its flaws, is still a vital check on the gov’t. I believe that Thomas Jefferson said that if it was a choice between a government with no free press or a free press with no gov’t, he’d take the later. Now, before anybody accuses me of saying that a lack of press conferences abridges the freedom of the press, let me assure you that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying that the free press serves a vital function in a system of representtaive gov’t, and if a politician is afraid of the press, well, maybe we should take that as an alarm bell going off.

  15. The Palestinians have been living the life of Riley. They can explode whenever they want don’t they?

    Now under those circumstances people’s reluctance to be near them cannot be just due to lack of deodorant.

    Perhaps if they were just content to explode in their own neighborhoods no one would mind. It is this lack of respect for private property which spells their doom.

  16. I want to see the president answer questions, live, all by himself.

  17. SR,

    Next thing you will be telling me is that they intend to restrict alcohol consumption.

  18. NYer, I know the anti-prostitution plank also pleases left-feminists, but let’s face it: their support for such plans is merely a side-benefit for G.W.B., just as with their support for anti-pornography measures.

  19. M. Simon, assuming you are referring to the UCMJ revision, there are two things to consider:

    1. Being drunk on duty has, as far as I can tell, been a punishable offense in the American military all the way back to the Revolutionary War, since it impairs functionality. Making a soldier’s “contact” with a prostitute a crime subject to court martial even when it takes place in a jurisdiction where such activities are perfectly legal appears to be without precedent. (Yes, I know, local commanders sometimes ordered their men to avoid such activities for health reasons, but that’s different than codifying it.) Given that sexually transmitted diseases are far more treatable today than they were a century ago, it’s not like there’s a suddenly compelling health reason for such a change.

    2. If you read the article I posted a link to, you’ll see that the express reason given for amending the UCMJ is to reduce the sex trade.

  20. “I’m just saying that the free press serves a vital function in a system of representtaive gov’t, and if a politician is afraid of the press, well, maybe we should take that as an alarm bell going off.”

    I’m sorry but any Republican politician who _isn’t_ afraid of the press sets my alarm bells off.

    The press does little but practice “gotcha” journalism with politicians of both parties, hoping to get them to word something poorly and descend with the hatchets.

    And equating a president not answering questions from the press enough (to whom?) as somehow an attack on the concept of the free press is silly. The press are still free to do as they please, but politicians shouldn’t have to suffer through Helen Thomas every day just because that’s the way things have always been done.

    But please, by all means, let’s pass a law to force the sitting President to hold press conferences twice a week. It seems to me that it’s either that or the current setup where a politician who doesn’t do enough press conferences are ultimately resposnible to the voters for that policy.

    “I want to see the president answer questions, live, all by himself.”

    I want to see him ride a unicycle while juggling chainsaws. By what means do you propose to compel him to do either?

    If the lack

  21. 2. If you read the article I posted a link to, you’ll see that the express reason given for amending the UCMJ is to reduce the sex trade.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there a tradition of prostitutes following armies going back to time immemorial? Are our leaders really so arrogant as to think that they can change a military practice that pre-dates Alexander and Caesar? I’m not condoning the practice, I’m just saying that it would be naive to think that you can change it by edict.

    Not having been a soldier, I don’t know why some of them go to prostitutes, but it probably has something to do with an instinctive urge to plant your seed before going to what may very well be your death. Or, maybe it’s just that 20 year-old men get horny, and when girlfriends aren’t around, they’ll inevitably find somebody else. But I am more suspicious of the second explanation. When I was 20, horny, and single, I still didn’t go to any prostitutes. But I wasn’t facing the very real possibility of dying in the near future.

    Anyway, I doubt that Donald Rumsfeld will have any luck in eradicating a military tradition as old as Alexander.

  22. I like the British system where Tony Blaire has to go down to the House of Commons periodically, get in the ring and speak for himself about what he’s been doing. The hisses, brickbats and catcalls come, he dodges and weaves (eloquently, I might add) and a fun time is had by all.

    Beats the shit out of a press conference.

  23. And equating a president not answering questions from the press enough (to whom?) as somehow an attack on the concept of the free press is silly.

    Well, I specifically said in my post that I wasn’t saying that. I was simply suggesting that politicians who don’t want to answer questions from the press should be viewed with suspicion.

    But please, by all means, let’s pass a law to force the sitting President to hold press conferences twice a week.

    Well, I wouldn’t advocate passing a law, but I do like the British arrangement where the Prime Minister has to answer questions from the House of Commons once a week. The questions are fun!

    Labour MP: Will the right honourable gentleman concede that his government has been guilty of trying too hard and loving our great country too much?

    (cue cheers from Labour side of the House and boos from the Tory side)

    Blair: I concur with my right honourable colleague.

    Tory MP: Will the right honourable gentleman agree that since his government took office, the weather has gotten worse, the economy has tanked, movies suck worse than ever, and every aspect of existence now sucks like never before, and that it is all his fault?

    (cue cheers and boos from the appropriate sides of the House)

    Blair: I cannot agree with my right honourable friend.

    Any MP from a constituency with a famous football (soccer) player: Will the right honourable gentleman join me in predicting a smashing victory for the British football team against France next week, with the help of an excellent player from my constituency?

    (cue wild applause from the entire House of Commons)

    Blair: I do heartily concur with my honourable colleague!

    (cue more wild applause, as the MPs swarm the exits and trample back-benchers)

    I want to see him ride a unicycle while juggling chainsaws. By what means do you propose to compel him to do either?

    I can’t do the chainsaws, but I can juggle on a unicycle! Seriously!

  24. Mr. Vee, so the President should never have to present his policies or explain his actions in an adversarial format? (Which, given the obsequious nature of the Washington press corp, a press conference barely is.) I would imagine that witnessing Prime Minister’s Question Time in a parliamentary system might cause your brain to melt…

  25. Ha! I see great minds think alike. 3 near-simultaneous posts on Question Time.

  26. “”I want to see the president answer questions, live, all by himself.” I want to see him ride a unicycle while juggling chainsaws. By what means do you propose to compel him to do either?”

    Take a chill pill Mr. Vee. No one’s proposed that the President should be compelled to answer questions from the White House press corps.

    If a President can articulate his position in real time, I’m more likely to support him.

    …that’s all.

    P.S. I’m not the President, but I can ride a unicycle and juggle at the same time. I’ve never tried chainsaws, but I can do torches; the principle’s the same.

  27. Actually, the principle of chainsaws is different if the chainsaw is running. There’s more angular momentum in the chainsaw, and so it might make things more difficult.

  28. I knew there was something I liked about thoreau.

  29. But, basically, everything is either a ball, a ring or a pin. Torches and chainsaws are both pins and potentially dangerous on one side.

  30. “I’m not the President, but I can ride a unicycle and juggle at the same time.”

    Well then you should be President!

  31. “Mr. Vee, so the President should never have to present his policies or explain his actions in an adversarial format?”

    Have to? No, not unless he’s compelled to by the law. There are sufficient mechanisms in place to deal with a President who won’t answer questions of the public. Elections are one such mechanism. Impeachment (depending on the situation) is another.

    Should he? Depends on the format. There’s no reason for him to tolerate an 82 year old woman asking him daily if he still beats his wife, and furthermore there sure as hell no reason in the freakin’ world to give her preferrential treatment. But if he feels the reporter in question is an honest broker than sure he should answer questions.

    Bush does do this. The complaint, apparently, is that he doesn’t do it often enough and that he “manages” the press. The press and populus is free to judge him harshly for this if they so choose and many here obviously do.

    I, simply don’t understand what people think these sorts of regular press conferences accomplish other than creating news for its own sake. If he has something specific to say or answer to, sure they’re a good idea. But with the sort of regularity people are suggesting? What’s the point?

  32. I was simply suggesting that politicians who don’t want to answer questions from the press should be viewed with suspicion.

    Why should they be viewed with suspicion? It sounds like intelligent behavior to me.

    There are sufficient mechanisms in place to deal with a President who won’t answer questions of the public.

    The press is not the public. If eighty percent of the public were toadies for the Democratic Party there wouldn’t even *be* a President Bush to complain about.

  33. Why should they be viewed with suspicion? It sounds like intelligent behavior to me.

    OK, I can see how one might not care if the President answers questions from the press. But if the President’s ideas really are so good then he should be willing to defend them in some sort of adversarial environment with questions that weren’t given to him in advance. If you don’t think the White House Press Corps is the way to do it then maybe he could answer questions from average citizens who haven’t signed loyalty oaths.

    Oh, wait, he won’t do that one either.

    Bottom line, I want a President who is willing to publicly answer questions that weren’t vetted for him in advance. I don’t care whether those questions are asked by Helen Thomas, John Q. Public, or the Right Honourable Michael Howard (Tory-Folkestone & Hythe).

  34. Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President!

  35. “Bottom line, I want a President who is willing to publicly answer questions that weren’t vetted for him in advance. I don’t care whether those questions are asked by Helen Thomas, John Q. Public, or the Right Honourable Michael Howard (Tory-Folkestone & Hythe).”

    Bush has done this. Here’s a link to the great informational value one of his more recent ventures in this form caused:

    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/186171_bushtribes13.html

    [b]”‘Tribal sovereignty means just that; it’s sovereign. You’re a — you’ve been given sovereignty, and you’re viewed as a sovereign entity.’

    “To many Native Americans — and Democrats, alike — the president’s answer spoke volumes about what they see as his ignorance of Indian issues. And to many, the operative word in Bush’s response was the verb ‘given.'”[/b]

    Thank god we’ve had this important exchange with critical consequences for the election. Bush is asked an unvetted question that he doesn’t have a clue how to answer because he hasn’t given it a second thought, and he stammers about a response with which his wording then becomes evidence of…

    …something. I’m not sure what. I guess it means he’s a bad guy. He’s got “people” in charge of these sorts of issues, ask them.

    In any event your argument isn’t he’s not doing it, it’s his not doing it enough. What answer to what question do you want that you don’t already know the answer to or you can’t get the answer to with a minimum of research?

    It seems to me that what you really want is the theater of watching politicians twist in the wind under a barrage of difficult questions. You’re not nearly as interested in the answers (since for most you already know the answers), as you are in the politician’s reaction.

    Republicans and Democrats alike have decided that there’s no reason for them to be dancing monkeys for the press anymore just because it makes good copy.

    If Bush decides to take a question from Helen Thomas, he knows the question will be along the lines of “What do you have to say to the mothers of the 1,000 soldiers you killed in your war on Iraq?” Any one of us under normal circumstances would tell her to “Go Cheney herself.” Bush has decided to simply avoid that confrontation and ignore her.

    If you’re bugged about everything being “scripted,” blame the press for deciding to publicly pillory politicians whenever they deviate from the script and use the word “given” inappropriately. Politicians have become increasingly scripted because the press has made a habit of making mountains out of poorly worded molehills.

    Giving politicians the little bit of slack any one of us would expect in rational discourse might allow them to loosen up a bit and they’d be a bit more open to unscripted questions. For the time being though, all they see is landmines and for pretty good reason.

  36. if the President’s ideas really are so good then he should be willing to defend them in some sort of adversarial environment with questions that weren’t given to him in advance.

    To give just one example, Bush has given many speeches and made many statements defending his reasons for launching the Iraq war. His opponents have vigorously attacked every last one of those speeches and every single one of those statements. So my question to you is: why doesn’t that count as “defending his ideas in an adversarial environment”?

    maybe he could answer questions from average citizens who haven’t signed loyalty oaths. Oh, wait, he won’t do that one either.

    Of course he won’t do that. He has virtually nothing to gain by doing so.

    The thing is, the American people have virtually nothing to gain from it, too. Even *academic* debates about politics, economics, etc, very seldom yield any useful results — and those debates take course over years, with voluminous research on both sides, and lengthy arguments written in scholarly journals. The chance of getting useful information out of a press conference or a man-on-the-street political Q&A is essentially zero. I’ve watched dozens of Presidential press conferences and I can’t think of a single useful thing I ever learned from them, besides “reporters are dicks”.

    The President (like all other politicians) offers his ideas to the public. Supporters offer arguments for them, opponents offer arguments against them. If the arguments against gain momentum, the candidate is forced to provide additional information, or a correction, or offer a new argument. In the end, people vote. It is silly to pretend that the ideas don’t get debated, questioned, or defended. They do; they just don’t get defended in a sit-down, one-on-one interview.

  37. I’ve watched dozens of Presidential press conferences and I can’t think of a single useful thing I ever learned from them, besides “reporters are dicks”.

    Would you think the same thing if a Democratic President faced a zinger question?

  38. Wow, that’s deep, Thoreau. So how many days is it since JF Kerry talked to reporters?

  39. I have no idea when last Kerry spoke to reporters. But, correct me if I’m wrong, my understanding is that he takes questions from ordinary citizens who didn’t sign loyalty oaths. I specifically said in an earlier post that I don’t really care whether the questions come from a reporter, an average citizen, or an irate Tory from the loyal opposition. My main goal is that they answer questions that weren’t pre-approved.

  40. “My main goal is that they answer questions that weren’t pre-approved.”

    And I repeat: why? What makes you believe that the responses they give will somehow in any way make you any more of an informed voter?

    Furthermore, the fact that both candidates have done exactly this means AGAIN that your objection isn’t that they never do this (because you would be incorrect) but rather that they don’t do it enough for your liking.

    And drop the “loyalty oath” bit. You make it sound like a sinister plot from the Alien and Sedition Act files when in actuality it’s just a meaningless piece of paper used in attempt to prevent yahoos from disrupting campaign rallies (like the folks at America Coming Together who broke this “story” when they were attempting to do just that and were faced with what is admittedly a rather severe screening process).

    Kerry screens folks too, but not as rigorously (though as the two conventions demonstrated, he probably doesn’t need to screen as severely as the GOP does). One would assume that John O’Neill would have a hard time getting front row seats to a televised Kerry rally.

    People screaming “Bush Lied, People Died” are not there to ask probing questions of the president on policy issues. Vets screaming “Kerry Lied, People Died” are similarly unwelcome at his rallies. Campaign rallies are commercials, not question and answer sessions.

  41. Would you think the same thing if a Democratic President faced a zinger question?

    So you concede that the purpose of press conferences is to hit the President with “zingers”, and not to ask legitimate questions.

    In any case, I said I had seen dozens of press conferences. Bush hasn’t *given* dozens of press conferences. So either (a) I didn’t watch any press conferences during the 8 years that Clinton was President or (b) the answer to your question is an obvious “yes”.

    Hint: it’s not “(a)”.

    I have no idea when last Kerry spoke to reporters.

    Which is funny, given your alleged interest in hearing people defend their ideas in the face of tough questioning. One might almost think that wasn’t your real interest at all.

    But, correct me if I’m wrong, my understanding is that he takes questions from ordinary citizens who didn’t sign loyalty oaths

    Bush doesn’t require loyalty oaths; enough with the childish hyperbole. He has taken both screened and unscreened questions from both the media and from private citizens. Kerry has also answered both screened and unscreened questions (and, of course, benefits from the fact that most reporters are Democrats). So why are you complaining about Bush and defending Kerry? Maybe you should actually provide some evidence that Kerry answers unscreened questions more often than Bush does.

    Why not be honest? You’re not really interested in the questions or the answers. You just like seeing reporters attack Bush, and you’re bummed that Bush is ignoring them.

  42. Dan,

    Why not be honest? You’re not really interested in the questions or the answers. You just like seeing reporters attack Bush, and you’re bummed that Bush is ignoring them.

    You have no real way of knowing this; this is just grandstanding by you now. Also, it would have been helpful if you had responded thoreau’s entire statement, instead of quoting it out of context.

  43. SR,

    I’m prone to unannounced bouts of sarcasm.

    What I want to know is has the military war gamed the sex bit? Or are they just going into it blind?

    How do you get around these kinds of restrictions? No more brothels – homes instead. Love shacks.

    Girls will be rented by the day not the hour. Payments will become disguised.

    Marriage with the locals will become more common.

    Marriage before deployment will become more common.

    No more selling sex. Love will now be for sale.

    I’m not sure that is an improvement.

  44. “What makes you believe that the responses they give will somehow in any way make you any more of an informed voter?”

    Because seeing how someone thinks on his feet, and whether he has intelligent answers to questions that he hasn’t studied the answers to, is useful in learing about the character, knowledge, and ability of a person.

    When someone asks if he can take out your daughter, would it be good enough for you to read his prepared statement selling himself, or would you want to actually meet the young man, have a little back and forth, and take his measure?

    I cannot believe that anyone would actually claim that they get all they need to know about a politician from scripted statements, and doubt anyone would be making such an asinine statement if the current darling of the right wasn’t so flagrantly incompetant at formulating and conveying thoughts.

  45. To expand on the above, the job of POTUS is only partly about having the right ideas (from both an ideological perspective, and a practical one).

    Equally important, if not more so, is actually being able to perform. How do you handle pressue? Are you able to function on your own? Can you stand up for yourself?

    If a candidate can’t handle snarky questions from a gaggle of reporters, how the hell is he supposed to make any headway in Congress, or against organized interest groups, or foreign enemies?

  46. Joe-
    I couldn’t agree more. If only congress was like the UK Parliament. Those cats mix it up something fierce. Can you picture GW defending himself against the onslaught TB puts up with?

  47. I would *love* a “Prime Minister’s Questions” in the US.

    Unfortunately, the “Powerful Chief Executive” faction in this country (known commonly as the Right), couldn’t stand to see the godhead have to endure such indiginities.

  48. Compared to 1900 human rights are advancing. Tremendously in a century. We are having some bad years. 1914 – 1918 wasn’t so good. 1939-45 was bad. The Soviets were a backwards step.

    All in all though Bush is correct.

  49. What about compared to 2000?

    Every nation in or near central Asia (Russia, China, Usbekistan, Turkmenista, Kazakstan, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, Turkey) now has a freer hand to oppress their people than they did before George Bush came to office, and this is the direct result of the policies he adopted after 9/11.

    The two exceptions, Iraq and Afghanistan, are teetering on the brink of civil wars, which are not terribly good for human rights.

  50. “Because seeing how someone thinks on his feet, and whether he has intelligent answers to questions that he hasn’t studied the answers to, is useful in learing about the character, knowledge, and ability of a person.”

    Sure, but do you need this every freakin’ day, or twice a week or however often you;d like?

    I’m not sure you noticed, but the President faced questions like this TODAY.

    So again, your problem isn’t that he doesn’t do this (he did TODAY, including one from an MSNBC reporter that wasn’t even a question but rather an accusation), it’s that he doesn’t do it enough for your liking.

    That’s fine, but why exactly do you think Kerry or anybody else would be different (Clinton wasn’t)? Why do you think this is an issue of grand importance?

    I don’t see it as an issue at all. He does take unscripted questions. Sometimes he slips up and misspeaks. If political opponents and the press (sometimes one and the same) wouldn’t descend on him like a pack of wolves when he did slip up on a meaningless issue, you might get more of these unscripted question and response sessions.

    Clinton slowed down doing these things after he realized that the press was essentially there to take target practice at him and not really ask relevant questions, or at least questions that he doesn’t already answer five times a day.

    “Aren’t you really sugorcoating what’s going on Iraq, and it isn’t true that Iraq is in far worse chaos than you’re indicating?” This isn’t a real question. What do you expect him to say? “Yes you caught me, sneaky reporter guy.”

    Any real question he knows anything about, we already know his answer to. Any question he has no clue about (like the Indian Soverignty question) is generally something somebody else is in charge of anyway. That’s what daily briefings are for: making sure he knows what he needs to know for the day ahead.

    You seem to think that I’m a right winger shilling for Bush. But I’d defend Kerry on this (I have, the “I voted for… before I voted against” is typical useless ‘gotcha’ stuff) as well. I defended Clinton too.

    My problem is that I perceive that people from everywhere on the political spectrum have in recent years have decided for some ungodly reason that they are somehow ‘better’ than all of these lying, cheating, crooked politicians, and therefore these politicians should be punished for their perfidy. This ‘toy cynicism’ is neither insightful nor helpful.

  51. “Sure, but do you need this every freakin’ day, or twice a week or however often you;d like?”

    Once a month, maybe twice, and I’d be happy.

    ” If political opponents and the press (sometimes one and the same) wouldn’t descend on him like a pack of wolves when he did slip up on a meaningless issue, you might get more of these unscripted question and response sessions.”

    Oh. Well, If it’s HARD and they press is MEAN, then I guess it’s ok to decide a man’s merits based on his cover letter, with no interview needed.

  52. I’m always amazed by the libertarian hostility toward what Thomas Jefferson regarded as one of the fundamental bulwarks of a free society. For all of its flaws (cough, Dan Rather, cough) the press is still a vital institution. (Which makes me all the more glad that this vital institution now faces a constant and watchful review board known as the blogosphere.) Yet all I seem to hear on this forum is “Hey, the press sucks, so I don’t really care if politicians answer any of their questions.”

    Amazing that libertarians will cut a politician the slack of “That’s OK, the interview would be hard and the press is mean, so just skip it.”

    How about this: Have the President answer questions from Congress once a week, just as the British PM does. It’s by no means a perfect process, but Tony Blair seems to relish it, the leader of the Tories seems to relish it (I can’t recall the guy’s name, because the Tories change leaders faster than J-Lo goes through husbands), the MPs seem to relish it, and the Brits seem to like it too. Everybody wins!

    If that doesn’t work for you, we can just have Donald Trump grill the President. Put trump on CSPAN 30 minutes a week with Carolyn and what’s-his-name helping with the interrogation.

  53. Presidents avoid press conferences now because press conferences suck.

    I remember back in the old days, say the 70’s or 80’s, when a President would announce a new plan, and then schedule a press conference for it. The press would do their damned job and read about the plan, come up with questions they think are valuable for the public to know, and present them to the president. The questions could be tough, but they were always ABOUT THE SUBJECT OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE. If a press conference was called on the new budget, questions would be asked about the budget. Occasionally, a reporter would be allowed to go off-topic if it seemed relevant or interesting to the people.

    Press conferences now are free-for-alls. If George Bush calls a press conference to explain the new budget, chances are he’ll get a couple of questions on topic, and a raft of ‘gotcha’ type questions or questions demanding his input on the scandal of the day. Did he serve his term in the guard? What about the Kitty Kelley book? What do you have to say about that? It says here you used cocaine! Did you? That kind of crap.

    George Bush Senior used to give a lot of press conferences, but I remember when he stopped – he gave a press conference on some issue, and some yahoo stood up and asked him if he’d had an affair. Bush scolded him and said the question was beneath his dignity and that the reporter should be ashamed of himself for asking it, or words to that effect (the same thing Clinton should have said, BTW).

    Since then, press conferences have gotten even worse. Some venerable White House press corps members (*cough* Helen Thomas *cough*) started using the opportunity to give their own little speeches, harangue the president over things they don’t like, or in general just steal camera time. Dan Rather started that nonsense with his grandstanding question against Nixon, which prompted Nixon to ask him, “Are you running for something?”

    The press sucks. They’ve all turned into partisan, tabloid muck-rakers, and it should be no surprise that Presidents are ignoring them and going directly to the people. That’s what Reagan did. He didn’t give many press conferences, but he gave weekly radio addresses, regular televised addresses, and lots of public appearances.

  54. “I’m always amazed by the libertarian hostility toward what Thomas Jefferson regarded as one of the fundamental bulwarks of a free society.”

    Damn right there’s hostility. There’s hostility because we recognize the severe importance of the free press and we get aggravated when they use it as a platform to grandstand for their own purposes. What the hell is the purpose of a “question” like “Aren’t you lying about the _real_ situation in Iraq?” It’s not like he wants an answer, he wants to take a swipe. That’s fine, but we don’t need press conferences for that.

    Hostility toward the press as it exists today isn’t the same as hostility toward the idea of a “free press.” It’s hostility toward a group that has decided to become just another advocacy group: IE a group interested in only the interests of itself and not the greater interests of the public at large.

    Think of the mind-numbing lack of invention these guys have when presented with the unique opportunity to pose questions to the Prime Minister of Iraq standing 50 feet from them, and instead decide to ask a series of “Please respond to Senator Kerry’s latest claim that…” They are so jaded in what they do, so comfortable in the concept of the “news cycle” that they don’t recognize a real opportunity to shed light on the issues of the day by posing a question to someone of massive importance with whom they normally have very little access.

    I think a perfect example is that a silly little right wing blogger was the first one with enough creativity and thoughtfulness to sak Jayson Blair his opinions on the CBS scandal:

    http://www.rathergate.com/index.php?p=200

    I mean it’s an obvious angle with an interesting point of view. Why is it some righty schnook instead of people who are supposed to experts at this?

    Being a vital and necessary part of democracy does not mean that the “press” (and the concept of something as defineable as “the press” continues to erode) is above criticism in the means and methods with which they conduct themselves. You seem to think that unless the press is routinely kicking politicians in the groin, they are otherwise simply spouting off propaganda. The press’ job is not to agitate, it is to inform.

    And when they behave as if they don’t recognize this, yeah I get hostile to them. You ought to as well.

  55. Mr. Vee,

    I don’t see anything wrong with those sorts of questions.

    The press’ job is not to agitate, it is to inform.

    Apparently you would wipe out most of American press’ history then. 🙂

  56. I didn’t say they’ve always been good at their job. 🙂

    Yes, sometimes the press needs to agitate in order to inform. But it seems to me that way too often the press agitates just for the sake of agitating. I mean an MSNBC guy actually asked Bush and Allawi, “Why should we believe you?”

    I mean if that’s not a “do you still beat your wife” question, what is? The response most of us would give to such a “question” would be “eat me.”

    As for the president having to sit weekly in the dunk tank of the US Congress, yeah it might be fun, but not particularly informative. Even the ‘fun’ part would wear off pretty quickly. I had enough of Trent Lott during Clinton’s 2nd term to last me 40 lifetimes.

  57. i concur with a number of the things the pro-bush (sorry about the catch-all) crowd here is saying. much of the mainstream press has woefully degraded into tabloid (to satisfy their uncomplicated audience). they are rapacious. q&a isn’t particularly informative for anyone. ideas get debated without it.

    but, along with all that, one must admit a couple things.

    one is that the *investigative* press still performs and always will perform the most important external check on government authority. if people quit using investigative journalism for information — even in spite of rathergate, et al — they’re asking for tyranny. far better, historically speaking, to err on the side of cynicism when evaluating government.

    two is that, q&a does serve one important purpose: humiliation. being put in the midst of a pile of reporters (or MPs) trying to trip you can be a humiliting experience — is, in fact, designed to be.

    i would submit that — just as roman triumphs always included a slave whispering into the ear of the triumphator, respice post te, hominem memento te, “consider what comes afterward, and remember that you are but a man” — the humiliation of the president in this way serves a very important human purpose. american presidents are increasingly unfettered, increasingly glorified, and often completely unquestioned by armies of supporters.

    anything we can do to bring the president to regular humility is to the advantage of the people and the nation, imo. that this adminstration works so hard to ignore accountability for mistakes and the humility it brings is one of the most frightening aspects of it. as dan noted, the president feels no compelling need to be subjected to such humiliation. woe to the republic for that.

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