I posted this on my personal blog while traveling in a Red state:

George W. Bush doesn’t disappoint. That is, if you expect him to dodge tough questions and misrepresent facts.

At his press conference today, Bush hailed “Operation Lightning,” the current military offensive to secure Baghdad as a sign of progress, noting that 40,000 Iraqi troops were patrolling the streets of the capital. Bush should check in with his own military. For days, military sources have been telling reporters that the actual number of Iraqi troops deployed for this action is much less, probably about one-third to one-half of the 40,000 figure cited by Bush. And the performance of these security forces has come under question. (Do Bush and Dick Cheney live in a fantasy land? Though US military commanders have been saying the insurgency could last years, Cheney yesterday claimed it is “in the last throes.”)

At least twice during the press conference, Bush was asked a question that challenged a basic policy and he ducked. Noting that Bush has called for democracy and human rights for all citizens of the world, a reporter asked why Bush had not spoken out against the May 13 massacre of hundreds of unarmed protesters in Uzbekistan. This slaughter was mounted by the repressive and corrupt regime of Islam Karimov, an ally of Bush in the war on terrorism who allows the United States to maintain a major airbase in his country. (For more information on this, click here.) In response, Bush insisted that he had called for the International Red Cross to investigate what happened. He added, “We expect all our friends…to honor human rights.” This was a rather lukewarm statement. The basic facts have been confirmed: government troops slaughtered about 700 to 1000 people who were calling for political and religious freedom. The British government has expressed outrage and called for democratic reforms in Uzbekistan (where the government in recent years has locked up thousands of political prisoners). Bush’s call for more information is a weasel-ish cop-out. He is unwilling to criticize this murderous authoritarian regime because he has cut a deal with Karimov. So much for his high-flying rhetoric about democracy and freedom. It does not apply to the dead of Uzbekistan.

Bush also declined to confront a serious matter related to his moralistic rhetoric about stem cells research. He has claimed that stem cells research that uses leftover blastocysts (early embryos of 100 or so cells) found in fertility clinics is unethical because it involves the destruction of these blastocysts. But there are 400,000 or so of these frozen blastocysts stored in fertility clinics across the country. What should be done with them? a reporter asked Bush. This question does get to the core of the issue. If you believe these embryos cannot be destroyed for scientific research that might lead to cures and treatments for terrible diseases, you certainly cannot be in favor of tossing them into the garbage. And then what are your choices? Keep them frozen forever? Give them names? It’s a question for which the foes of stem cell research generally have no answer. You can ban in vitro fertilization, but you still would have the 400,000 leftovers now in stock.

How did Bush handle this tricky–and fundamental–issue? He took a powder. “The stem cell issue is really one of federal funding,” he said. He did note that he had held an event at the White House with “little babies” who had grown from adopted embryos. Indeed, a few dozen leftover blastocysts have been adopted. But are there 400,000 people lining up for the rest of these Petri dishes? The question remains: what should be done with these deep-frozen fertilized eggs? Bush offered no guidance.

It’s no surprise that Bush bobs, weaves and misleads. The real disappointment is that the hound dogs of the press corps do not challenge him when he does so. They sit there well-behaved, wait to be called upon, and rarely think of tossing aside their prepared questions and asking, “With all due respect, Mr. President, you didn’t answer the question on the leftover embryos. Can you please tell us specifically what should be done with them. Or do you have no idea?” Bush can tap-dance his way through a press conference because his not-so-grand inquisitors do nothing to change the tune.