|By A.D. Freudenheim||
15 February 2004
On Sunday, 8 February 2004, President Bush participated in an hour-long taped interview with Tim Russert, for the NBC show Meet the Press. It must be said it must be said here since so few seem willing to say it elsewhere that the Presidents performance was execrable. On the basis of this stunning display of unintelligibility, Mr. Bush deserves not only to lose the election passively, but to be actively voted out of office for not being able to fulfill one of the positions most crucial responsibilities: to articulate clearly a set of policies to his constituents, to explain his actions in terms that make sense, and to do so with the necessary facts behind him. For much of the hour, Russert asked questions about the war, questioning the Presidents credibility, the quality of the information he received, and the surefooted way Mr. Bush made decisions using information that was, it now seems clear, flawed at the very least. To say that the President was unable to respond effectively or defend himself is an understatement. Several noteworthy themes emerged from this interview.
First of all, many of Mr. Bushs answers were tautologies, in the vein of I did the right thing because I know I did the right thing, which means, as I have already said, that I did the right thing. These ridiculous, redundant answers are extremely disconcerting; perhaps the President believe that the only thing needed to prove he is right is his own word to that effect but such responses most assuredly do not answer the questions asked of him. Equally troublesome, they amplify something else that Mr. Bush suggested: in his view, there is only one way to see the world his. Read:
Beyond the tautological answers, Mr. Bushs comments also gave the impression that he thought he was speaking to someone less intelligent than he is and that the American people, never mind his interviewer, would not understand what hes trying to say unless he proceeded very carefully with each statement. So carefully, in fact, that he made less sense than he might have if hed simply answered Russerts questions directly, as in these exchanges:
Did he actually say Id be glad to visit with them? Yes, he did. Mr. Bush would also be glad to make recommendations? Very kind, but odd indeed, since that is the alleged job of the commission itself. Mr. Bush also said:
Indeed: a dangerous part of the world. And Mr. Bush, and his administration, knew what they were dealing with:
Well, he thought he knew what he was dealing with:
Interesting. It does seem that the President just acknowledged that the intelligence data was incorrect. This acknowledgment that the data was wrong is then repeated, a few minutes later:
Right. Sorry, wrong. Wait. Lets parse that last bit:
That is one hell of a statement. In other words: this dangerous man might have had weapons of mass destruction, except that we cannot now prove that he did. And we could not have proved this in advance, either, because there is no such thing as real proof from a regime like this. Therefore, we knew we had all the evidence, and it was correct, so therefore, we knew we were right, even though we couldnt prove it. And even though the President now admits, as in that last sentence quoted, that we were wrong (i.e., wasnt right).
The contradictions are many, and so are the absurdities. Mr. Bush referred to the terrorists, and the war on terrorism, this way:
And this way:
That last bit is particularly odd because the the terrorist didnt have airplanes, they hijacked them and to whom is the we in we want to harm America referring, anyway? And then there are the unintended consequences of transcriptions, as in this example:
Read out of context, this quote might seem to show Mr. Bush confirming that the intelligence was, in fact, ambiguous and that Mr. Bush did adjust it to fit his needs. This was not the likely intent of the Presidents affirmative response but even watching the interview unfold, it was difficult to tell if the President truly knew what he was saying at all times, and this is only one example of the problem.
Given the impoverished nature of American journalism where few reporters ask politicians follow-up questions in order to pursue clear answers to specific queries that have not been adequately addressed Mr. Russerts interview with Mr. Bush revealed remarkable integrity on Russerts part. He tried to get the President to answer questions directly, and he attempted, delicately, to ask questions again if he felt the answers werent clear. Likewise, the President seemed to want to answer questions directly, and everything from his words (the frequent need to say things like let me put it in context) to his body language (leaning forward intently to show he was listening, or serious in his responses) suggested this. Perhaps more disturbing than the interview itself is that of the many news stories reporting the Presidents remarks, few bothered to note the evident confusion, contradictions, and general befuddlement of the leader of the United States of America. Perhaps the pain of doing so is too great; perhaps it is a truth too tough to acknowledge.
Yet when Mr. Bush says things like we need really good intelligence, he is all too right and what is clearly missing is his own. The confusion and illogic of his answers in this interview only underscore the degree to which Mr. Bush and his administration have lied and manipulated facts to support their own ends. The interview also makes it quite apparent why the President rarely acquiesces to requests for these types of interactions with the media: he is not smart enough. Unless he is scripted, reading the words of someone who understands policies and can state them clearly, he cannot articulate the needs or positions of his own administration. Good intelligence is critically important, and it is time that we elect a President who has some or at least, has more of it than Mr. Bush has yet been able to show us in his first term in office.
| The full transcript of Mr. Bushs interview with Tim Russert is available on the web here: http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4179618/. All excerpts subsequently quoted here credited to NBCs Meet the Press."||
Copyright 2004, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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