Once again, it’s time to talk back to Bush. All the remarks below come from George W. Bush’s January 26 press conference–except for the italicized heckling.
Bush: Good morning. With the second term underway and a new Congress at work, we’re moving forward on great goals for our country. In my inaugural address I renewed this nation’s commitment to expanding liberty at home and promoting liberty abroad.
And you raised far more questions than you answered.
Because our own freedom is enhanced by the expansion of freedom in other nations, I set out the long-term goal of ending tyranny in our world. This will require the commitment of generations.
During that address, you also made what seemed to be a short-term promise. You said, “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.” This sure suggested you were fired up and ready today to confront political tyranny wherever it may exist and assist democrats and dissidents currently challenging repressive rulers–say, in Russia, Saudi Arabia, China, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan. Now it looks like you’re not truly ready and willing to “stand” with these folks. With this speech, did you write a check you can’t cover?
Next week, I will report to Congress on the state of the union and describe in more detail a legislative agenda to serve the goals I have outlined. I’ll ask the House and Senate to act soon on the issue of Social Security, so that we don’t pass a bankrupt system on to our children and our grandchildren. I’m open to good ideas from members of Congress. I’ll work with both parties to get results. Any solution must confront the problem fully and directly by making the system permanently solvent and providing the option of personal accounts.
Are you finally going to offer a Social Security plan with details? During the 2000 campaign, you said there was a dire need to alter the Social Security system. Yet five years have passed, and you still have not produced a plan for dealing with what you call a “crisis.” Why are you lallygagging? By the way, the system will not be “bankrupt,” as you assert repeatedly. Come 2042–or maybe even 2052–it will be able to pay out about three-quarters of scheduled benefits, according to conservative projections. That’s a problem; it’s not bankruptcy. If you don’t believe me, please check with your old professors at Harvard Business School. I’m sure they will remember you.
We have a full agenda. I’m looking forward to the work ahead. And now I’m looking forward to answering some of your questions.
Q: Mr. President, the insurgents in Iraq are threatening to kill anyone who comes out to vote on Sunday. Do you think they’ll succeed in killing or scaring away enough people so that the elections will be rendered seriously flawed or not credible?
Bush: We anticipate a lot of Iraqis will vote….I anticipate a — a grand moment in Iraqi history. If we’d been having this discussion a couple of years ago and I’d have stood up in front of you and said the Iraqi people would be voting, you would look at me like some of you still look at me, with a kind of blank expression.
And if you had said “a couple of years ago” that the United States would still be in Iraq, that there would be no weapons of mass destruction found there, that there would be over 1300 dead American GIs and perhaps over 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians, that there would be a raging insurgency nearly two years after the invasion, that there would still be no clear exit strategy, and that the cost of the war to the US taxpayer would be $260 billion and rising, we might have looked at you with something other than a blank expression.
People are voting. And this is a part of a process, to write a constitution and then elect a permanent assembly. And it’s exciting times for the Iraqi people.
Car bombs, assassinations, kidnappings, threats of being killed if you vote, and a new police force that reportedly is corrupt and practicing torture. Some might call that exciting.
Q: Sir, your inaugural address has been interpreted as a new, aggressive posture against certain countries, in particular Iran. Should we view it that way?
Bush: My inaugural address reflected the policies of the past four years…
Q: Do you see it as a policy shift?
Bush: No, as I said, it reflects the policy of the past, but it sets a bold, new goal for the future.
The policy of the past and a goal for the future, but what about the present? Why do you think your speech was widely perceived as a shift? Since you’re still explaining it a week later, doesn’t that indicate you didn’t communicate effectively?
Q: Last month in Jordan, a gentleman named Ali Hatar was arrested after delivering a lecture called, “Why We Boycott America.” He was charged under section 191 of their penal code for slander of government officials. He stood up for democracy, you might say. And I wonder if here and now, you will specifically condemn this abuse of human rights by a key American ally. And if you won’t, sir, then what, in a practical sense, do your fine words mean?
Bush: I’m unaware of the case. You’ve asked me to comment on something that I didn’t know took place. I urge my friend, His Majesty, to make sure that democracy continues to advance in Jordan. I noticed today that he put forth a reform that will help more people participate in future governments of Jordan. I appreciate His Majesty’s understanding of the need for democracy to advance in the greater Middle East. We visited with him at the G8, and he has been a strong advocate of the advance of freedom and democracy.
Well, obviously, he’s not been a strong enough an advocate. Let’s put it this way: Do you give a fig about Ali Hatar? Are you willing to “stand” with him right now, as you vowed in your speech? Will you immediately ask to be briefed on his situation or order the State Department to investigate right away and then, if these are indeed the facts, call “His Majesty” and demand the release of Hatar?
…We expect nations to adopt the values inherent in a democracy, which is human rights and human dignity, that every person matters and every person ought to have a voice.
And what if your friends in Russia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia do not adopt these values?
Q: Mr. President, in the debate over Dr. Rice’s confirmation, Democrats came right out and accused you and the administration of lying in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Republicans, in some cases, conceded that mistakes have been made. Now that the election is over, are you willing to concede that any mistakes were made? And how do you feel about —
Bush: Let me talk about Dr. Rice — you asked about her confirmation. Dr. Rice is an honorable, fine public servant who needs to be confirmed. She will be a great Secretary of State. And Dr. Rice and I look forward to moving forward….And she is going to make a wonderful Secretary of State.
Q: No reaction to the lying [charge]? No reaction? (Laughter.)
Bush: Is that your question? The answer is, no. Next.
Why not? You and Rice have been accused of misleading the public to grease the way to war. You have no reaction? By the way, you did not answer a key part of this question: “Are you willing to concede that any mistakes were made?”
Q: You’re preparing to ask Congress for an additional $80 billion in war spending in Afghanistan and Iraq. The White House is also prepared to predict a budget deficit of $427 billion for this year. You talk about sacrifice in this country. Do you think that you’re really asking Americans to sacrifice financially?….
Bush: Americans pay a lot of taxes. They pay tax at the federal level, they pay tax at the state level, they pay tax at the local level. Americans do pay taxes….
It’s hard work, real hard work, to end tyranny around the globe. And it costs a lot. Don’t you think you should ask current taxpayers to bear this burden, rather than charging it to the national credit card and passing the bill to future generations?
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Q: If I could return for a moment to your inaugural address. Dr. Rice referred in her testimony to six outposts of tyranny, countries where we clearly, I think, have a pretty good idea of your policies. What we’re confused by right now, I think — or, at least, I’m confused by, is how you deal with those countries like Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, with whom we have enormous broad interests. Should the leaders of those countries now be on notice that the primary measure of their relationship with the United States should be their progress toward liberty? Or can they rest assured that, in fact, you’ve got this broad agenda with them and you’re willing to measure liberty up against what China does for you on North Korea, what Russia does for you in other areas?
Bush: I don’t think foreign policy is an either/or proposition. I think it is possible when you’re a nation like the United States to be able to achieve both objectives…In my meetings with Chinese leadership in the past, and my meetings with Chinese leadership in the future, I will constantly remind them of the benefits of a society that honors their people and respects human rights and human dignity…Vladimir Putin — I have discussed with Vladimir Putin some of his decisions….I will remind him that if he intends to continue to look West, we in the West believe in Western values.
Do you believe that such “reminders” are effective. Here you tell us that you will be discussing the benefits of democracy with the autocrats of China and Russia. In your speech, you said you would be standing with the freedom-seeking dissidents and democrats challenging these autocrats. Is reminding Putin that “we in the West believe in Western values” an effective way to “stand” with such courageous souls?
Q: Dr. Rice again — quoting your future Secretary of State, [she] wrote in “Foreign Affairs Magazine” in 2000, outlining what a potential Bush administration foreign policy would be, talked about things like security interests, free trade pacts, confronting rogue nations, dealing with great powers like China and Russia — but promotion of democracy and liberty around the world was not a signature element of that prescription. I’m wondering what’s changed since 2000 that has made this such an important element of your foreign policy.
Bush: I’m the President; I set the course of this administration. I believe freedom is necessary in order to promote peace, Peter. I haven’t seen the article you’re referring to….I haven’t seen the article, I didn’t read the article. Obviously, it wasn’t part of her job interview. (Laughter.)
Good one, Mr. President. But now that the laughter is fading, let me ask this: Your number-one national security adviser (or tutor) writes a major article in the leading journal of foreign policy outlining your likely foreign policy, and you never read or saw the piece? Can you explain? Do you hate reading that much? Do you feel you can delegate and not have to check what happens after that? Were you not at all curious?”
Q: I’d like to ask you about the Gonzales nomination, and specifically, about an issue that came up during it, your views on torture. You’ve said repeatedly that you do not sanction it, you would never approve it. But there are some written responses that Judge Gonzales gave to his Senate testimony that have troubled some people, and specifically, his allusion to the fact that cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of some prisoners is not specifically forbidden so long as it’s conducted by the CIA and conducted overseas. Is that a loophole that you approve?
Bush: Listen, Al Gonzales reflects our policy, and that is we don’t sanction torture. He will be a great Attorney General, and I call upon the Senate to confirm him….
During his confirmation hearings, Gonzales said that he and you oppose “torture and abuse.” Yet in his written response to queries from the Senate judiciary committee, he noted that foreign prisoners held overseas can be subjected to treatment by US intelligence officers that is “cruel, inhumane or degrading,” even though this sort of abuse is banned by an international treaty the United States ratified. So doesn’t that mean that his public testimony to the committee was false? Perhaps a lie? After all, he clearly stated in that written reply that you and he do support “abuse” in certain cases. If this is not your view, then shouldn’t you withdraw the Gonzales nomination? Shouldn’t this issue be cleared up before the Senate votes on his nomination?
Q: Back on Social Security, any transition to personal accounts is estimated to cost between $1 trillion to $2 trillion over 10 years. Without talking about specific proposals, do you plan to borrow that money, or will you, when your plan comes out —
Bush: You’re asking me to talk about specific proposals. And I’m looking over….And at the appropriate time, we’ll address that — that aspect of reform.
And can you tell us why it has taken you five years to present any ideas on this? And why you wouldn’t offer any concrete proposal before the recent election?
Q: We saw the Democrats yesterday devote nine hours to Ms. Rice. We may see something similar with regard to Judge Gonzales. There’s just simply a lot of anger on the Hill by Democrats at you, personally, and at your administration. And isn’t this going to dog your efforts at whatever you do down the line, from the Supreme Court to immigration to whatever?
Bush:…And I don’t know about hostility and all that business. That’s — I guess that’s your job to gauge that. When I’ve talked with people, I feel like people are looking forward to working with us.
Are you bullshitting or delusional? Let’s hope that it’s only the former and that you do realize the depth of the hostility you have engendered.
…Listen, thank you all, very much, for your time. I appreciate this. And I’m looking forward to working with you all as we have a productive 2005.
Before you trot off, please, tell us: in your second term, do you expect to set another record low when it comes to holding presidential press conferences?
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