Bush On Russert: D- On The War, B+ On The Rest

I’ve been traversing the blogosphere so I could see what bloggers thought about Bush’s performance on “Meet the Press” and the reviews have been all over the map. I think that may be because it was almost like there were two interviews.

At the start of the show when Russert was grilling Bush about the war, I thought Bush came across as evasive, long winded, & obtuse (although in all fairness, it reads better than it sounded live). In fact, Bush reminded me of an unprepared college student giving an oral report and just tossing out facts he knows about a subject in hopes that the professor will give him a “D-” instead of an “F”. But, once Bush got past the war, I thought he was very effective.

So what was the difference between the 1st & 2nd halves of the interview? In the 2nd half of the interview, Bush effectively countered the charges Russert brought up in a way that I thought was concise, on topic, and understandable to the average person. For example, here’s an exchange that I thought was great…

RUSSERT: And we are back in the Oval Office, talking to the president of the United States.

Mr. President, this campaign is fully engaged. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terence McAuliffe, said this last week: I look forward to that debate when John Kerry, a war hero with a chest full of medals, is standing next to George Bush, a man who was AWOL in the Alabama National Guard. He didn’t show up when he should have showed up.

BUSH: Yes.

RUSSERT: How do you respond?

BUSH: Political season is here. I was — I served in the National Guard. I flew F-102 aircraft. I got an honorable discharge.

I’ve heard this — I’ve heard this ever since I started running for office. It’s a — I put in my time, proudly so.

I would be careful to not denigrate the Guard. It’s fine to go after me, which I expect the other side will do. I wouldn’t denigrate service to the Guard, though. And the reason I wouldn’t, is because there are a lot of really fine people who have served in the National Guard and who are serving in the National Guard today in Iraq.

So Bush not only definitively says that the AWOL charge is bunk, he points out that he was fighter pilot, something a lot of people who aren’t political junkies may not be aware of. Furthermore — and here’s the best thing about this response — Bush turns it around. Not only is he pointing out that this is just “politics as usual from the Dems” he’s warning them not to continue to insult members of the National Guard who are risking their life for our country.

So what about the war questions? What Bush needed to do on there was ramble less, get to the point, and turn the tables on the people tossing rhetorical barbs at him. Here’s an example of what I mean; this a response Bush COULD HAVE made to one of the war questions from Russert,

RUSSERT: How do you respond to critics who say that you brought the nation to war under false pretenses?

THEORETICAL BUSH RESPONSE: Well Tim, that’s obviously ridiculous. The Brits, the Germans, the Israelis, George Tenet, the Clinton administration, even Democrats running for President like John Kerry, John Edwards, & Wesley Clark all believed Saddam had stockpiles of WMDs and said so publicly before the war.

Furthermore, while we haven’t found the WMD that all of us expected to find, David Kay has already confirmed that the Iraqis were working on a chemical weapon using ricin, had the material needed for dirty bombs, and that Saddam fully intended to resume his weapons programs. If the critics would rather that Saddam were still in power today, still working on producing chemical weapons, still supporting terrorism, then I couldn’t disagree more with the critics.

A response like that not only convincingly refutes the charge that Bush lied, it lets people know there was SOMETHING going on in Iraq. Furthermore, it puts “the critics” on the defensive. Let them explain away all the other people and intelligence agencies who believed Iraq had WMD. Let them explain why they don’t believe Iraq’s chemical weapons program was a threat.

In any case, I think this sort of give and take with someone like Russert will help sharpen up the message for the campaign trail and given some of those early responses, Bush needs that…

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