Wednesday, April 14, 2004

About last night

Already, I'm liking the first lede I read this morning on last night's press conference: "Against a backdrop of widespread violence in Iraq, President Bush insisted Tuesday night that U.S. troops were making progress in restoring order to the country and that "we must not waver" from plans to return sovereignty to the Iraqi people on June 30."

Also, "But he acknowledged no errors in his handling of the war in Iraq or failings related to the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon."

I like the use of "acknowledged." There are subtle angles in stories - there's one now.

Also, as the article points out, Bush said "the country was not on a war footing, and yet the enemy was at war with us. And it's — it didn't take me long to put us on a war footing, and we've been on a war ever since."

I thought, and I may have to go back and check this, but I thought Ms. Rice said Bush had everyone at "Battle stations?" Isn't a battle a subpart of a war. And how are you at your battle stations but still not on a war footing? Fun with Metaphors, by the George Bush Administration.

During the conference, I noted several instances of Bush connecting with Americans over/despite/instead of the press. It's a technique he uses frequently.

The first was in regards to - well, this is still fuzzy for me - I think it was in response to the lack of WMD and the credibility problem that may present for the admin. Bush retorts: "The people know where I stand."

The second one, as the LAT presents it:

The political context of the debate over Iraq surfaced near the end of the news conference, when a reporter asked if Bush was willing to lose the election because of the Iraq war.

The president replied: "I don't plan on losing my job. I plan on telling the American people that I've got a plan to win the war on terror, and I believe they'll stay with me. They understand the stakes."

The none-too-sub-subtext is I know I can't - and haven't - proven anything per se, but I know what I know. And the American people - the REAL Americans out there - they get it too. They know what's up. They're with me. They're on the team. They laughed at the press-dinner where's-the-WMD joke. They get it - you guys are too cynical. This should concern students of rhetoric everywhere.

He also said at one point - and I missed this, but the LAT has it - that "nobody likes to see dead people on their television screens. I don't."

Given what we know of his television viewing habits, I think it's a safe bet that he hasn't seen any on any television screen. Guess you can task out pain as well.

The reaction from this CA-Reep puts it well (again from the LAT):

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) gave Bush high marks for speaking forcefully but said "no speeches, nothing that anyone says, can be as attention-grabbing as a burning Humvee on television, which we've all been seeing plenty of. That's the image that has been placed before millions of American families."

(Hunter then loses my vote later, however when he says: "[the press conference] is not the right time for reporters to try to throw the president down on the analyst's couch and have him try to tell them about all of his failings. He has to spend his time giving a vision of the future for the country."

It has also been placed before Bush - but he won't see it. I mean won't as in "refuses to" and "is factually incapable of processing the image."

I also liked the part where he poo-poo-ed the Vietnam analogy: "I think the analogy is false. I also happen to think that analogy … sends the wrong message to our troops and sends the wrong message to the enemy." That message being: uh, whoops, maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Yup, no good message there.

Other sound bites of note (and some of these are blogged below, but I wanted to give them more attention):

Bush called this, several times, a "historic mission." The word "historic" generally carries positive connotations. However, I don't think I need to point out that, technically, the word historic is qualitatively neutral. You make the call.

Bush's tone and delivery consistently rub me the wrong way - yet I watched the speech with someone who thinks he is calm and sounds trustworthy. I'd say smarmy and condescending. Either way, he subtly emphasizes some words. There is "serious violence in some areas." Some, just some. Okay, fine. The terrorists are out to kill Jews [beat, beat] and Christians. Whether intentional (planned by brilliant advisors) or inadvertent (caused by his fabled difficulty with language), they are there - those tiny indicators on his truth.

Something I'm still mulling over is this statement on America the Liberator v. America the New Imperial Kid on the Block:

"We're not an imperial power as nations such as Germany and Japan can attest. We're a liberating power as nations such as Europe and Asia can attest."

Okay - I know my WWII history enough to know that we liberated France and a lot of other stuff in Europe (though, if I recall, we weren't the first one's marching under the Arc in Paris). I'm not wholly certain who we liberated in Asia. I could just be blocked by the thought of the last Asian country we tried to help out - but that gets us back to Vietnam which of course has nothing, nothing, Nothing! to do with the squabble at hand.

And Germany and Japan? They were imperial, and wanted to be more so - so I guess what he means is we put the kibosh on them but didn't stay there too long. Okay, I guess. I still think it was a labored thought, however.

Every time, however, he spoke decisively about America's commitment to Iraq, to the continuation of the preemptive strategy, to rooting out the evil-doers (and no, he didn't call them that this time), I was struck with the thought that he's writing checks the bodies of young, frequently brown, Americans will cash. Unsettling. He speaks for me because he's my president, unfortunately. But I really gotta ask him to chill on the bravado vibe. Please.

Our tautologically gifted president, who can't offer proof of what he knows, but he knows he knows it, closed by stressing, again, "when I say something, I mean it, and the credibility of the US is essential . . . ." I agree with the importance of credibility. That's why I have a problem with you, Mr. Bush.

Bush says we're safer. That our mission is historic. That we're changing the world.

That we're changing the world is certain. Whether we're safer remains to be seen - and unfortunately - can only be confirmed one way or the other by more blood.

The press conference highlighted beautifully the conflation of issues surrounding American foreign and domestic-security policy since 9/11. The miasma of questions (both raised by Bush's words and asked by reporters) - what about this as it relates to this relates to that draws on stuff over there - didn't help draw better distinctions or clear any air.

As Ron Brownstein put it - Bush, last night and generally, was long on goals and short on means. "Stay the course" was a catch phrase made famous, to me, by Bush I (or more precisely, Dana Carvey's artful depiction of him). More colloquially, if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it is an excellent strategy. But things are broken. Bodies, for the most part, of American soldiers, civilian contractors, and Iraqis.

We need to be fixed badly. Staying this course, no matter how many times and in how many ways Bush suggests it, is not a viable option.

I hope John Kerry can present an alternative. And, to borrow from the President, I believe the American people will get it. The two remaining questions are whether they will get it in time and how much blood will be enough proof.

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