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Maybe It Was Magic!

Aaron LarsonPerson was signed in when posted
03:22 PM ET (US)
William Saletan is less charitable.
When Russert asked Bush about his unpopularity abroad, Bush answered, "I'm not going to change, see? I'm not trying to accommodate. I won't change my philosophy or my point of view. I believe I owe it to the American people to say what I'm going to do and do it, and to speak as clearly as I can, try to articulate as best I can why I make decisions I make. But I'm not going to change because of polls. That's just not my nature."

No, it isn't. Bush isn't Clinton. He doesn't change his mind for anything, whether it's polls or facts. And he always tells the truth about what's in his mind, whether or not what's in his mind corresponds to what's in the visible world.

* * *

The punch line is that Bush accomplished exactly what he set out to do in this interview: He showed you how his mind works. Republicans used to observe derisively that Clinton had a difficult relationship with the truth. Bush has a difficult relationship with the truth, too. It's just a different—and perhaps more grave—kind of difficulty.
Aaron LarsonPerson was signed in when posted
10:27 AM ET (US)
According to David Brooks, Bush should have gone on Russert's show and lied like a rug. Brooks doesn't, in my opinion, believe that the words he wants to put into Bush's mouth are in any way an honest appraisal of how Bush feels or acts - he just knows that good spin can make the mediocre seem a lot more impressive.
09:22 PM ET (US)
Peggy Noonan wouldn't have kept her job for a New York minute if she'd told Reagan "Oh no, these speeches aren't about policy, sir. Save that for interviews."

I'm still waiting to hear a credible explanation for the destroyed-weapons argument. I mean, you're a small country being invaded by a superpower that wants you dead, and you have big scary weapons. What do you do?

a) Use them against the superpower's armies
b) Threaten to do a), either against the superpower or against an allied target
c) Destroy all the weapons, their manufacturing sites, and all evidence they existed

Under what circumstances is c) a sane option?
Edited 02-08-2004 09:22 PM
Aaron LarsonPerson was signed in when posted
08:20 PM ET (US)
I should add this: If you understand the message (i.e., philosophy) you are trying to convey, absent some other consideration, you will be able to answer questions in a manner consistent with that philosophy - if you practice. If you "philosophy" is as thin as "kill evildoers; lower taxes", it shouldn't even take much practice.
Aaron LarsonPerson was signed in when posted
08:00 PM ET (US)
Peggy Noonan analyzes the Bush Interview with Russert. She attributes Bush's performance to self-consciousness: "He knows he has to hit every point smoothly, but self-consciousness keep him from smoothness. In real life, in the office, Mr. Bush is not self-conscious. Nor was Mr. Reagan." So he's not good either at giving speeches or at giving interviews because what? He's bashful?

But that's not what she was saying a moment before: "George W. Bush is not good at talking points." She suggests that when he's asked a question, he must scramble in his mind to find the right talking point. That's different from self-consciousness. It means one of several things, but principally: He is so awkward in his own words, he must first remember and then answer in words others have written for him; or, he could answer in his own words but must first recall how he and his advisors have decided to finesse the truth.

Noonan then laughably rationalizes, "Democrats have minds that do it through talking points, and Republicans have minds that do speeches.". Perhaps she is trying to advance the stereotype that Democrats are smarter than Republicans. The reason that Clinton is remembered for his talking points is not because he didn't give good speeches, but because he was also able to take on tough questions off-the-cuff. The reason today's Presidential speeches don't resonate like an impressive answer to a tough question is that they aren't the President's words, and may not even be the President's thoughts - they are a construct, prepared by a staffer, vetted by insiders, and displayed on a teleprompter.

We've seen Disney's animatronics - we know that it is possible, even for a robot, to give a good speech. But we expect more from a President's public performances than "Insert key here and turn clockwise".

Noonan continues,
Republicans think politics is something you have to do and that policy is something you have to have to move things forward in line with a philosophy. They like philosophy. But they are bored by policy and hate having to memorize talking points.

Speeches are the vehicle for philosophy. Interviews are the vehicle of policy. Mr. Kerry does talking points and can't give an interesting speech. Mr. Bush can't do talking points and gives speeches full of thought and assertion.
Oh, spare me. Bush gives speeches that somebody has written for him, and many find his performances to be flat and lifeless. That's not to say that other Presidents don't also give speeches that have been written form them - but being "deep" or "philosophical" means nothing when you are reading words written by others. Correction - it means something: it means that you have an adequate staff of speechwriters.
Edited 02-08-2004 08:01 PM

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