Monday, February 09, 2004

Even the Transcript is Unreadable: So much for Bush's come-out-swinging strategy. His sit down with Russert was a disaster. Once you work through the tortured syntax and inept attempts to stay on message, the substance of Bush's answers is adequate. But no more than adequate. The benefit of reading the transcript is that the transcript can't convey the weak and whiny tone of the president's apologia. In other words, the medium didn't help Bush at all.

Others are seeing it differently, of course. Sullivan thinks Bush hit some good line drives. And Viking Pundit says that low expectations for any eloquence from Bush make him a net winner. I'll grant them both their points, and as I mentioned last week, Bush is the only candidate, I'd argue, whose vision on foreign policy is in step with the times, who isn't fighting the new war with the old strategy. But that fundamental asset to his administration is no help to his campaign unless he can sell it a little better than he did on Sunday. Example:

Russert: But there are lots of madmen in the world, Fidel Castro …

President Bush: True.

MR. Russert: … in Iran, in North Korea, in Burma, and yet we don't go in and take down those governments.

President Bush: Correct, and I could that's a legitimate question as to why we like felt we needed to use force in Iraq and not in North Korea. And the reason why I felt like we needed to use force in Iraq and not in North Korea, because we had run the diplomatic string in Iraq. As a matter of fact, failed diplomacy could embolden Saddam Hussein in the face of this war we were in. In Iraq I mean, in North Korea, excuse me, the diplomacy is just beginning. We are making good progress in North Korea.

I'm sure that answer doesn't reassure Razor, who has been tough on the administration for its apples-and-oranges policy on the Axis of Evil. (Hell, I formulated a more nuanced answer than that, and it still didn't satisfy Razor.)

I suppose Bush didn't lose any of his base with his appearance; but he's not winning a lot of on-the-fence votes this way, is he? It's funny that I was writing, just a few weeks ago, about the chances of a Bush landslide. It will always be his election to lose, given the power of incumbancy. But since the Democratic primaries began, which is when Bush began to formulate his campaign response, he has shown a willingness and ability to do just that, with that flabby State of the Union and a disturbingly undisciplined counterattack on Meet the Press.

Predictions now are useless; the political landscape will shift in a thousand ways before election day. But the White House better start taking this shit seriously if they hope for a win in November.

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