Hope and fear are always the polar forces at work in Americanpolitics and this Texas-macho President has brilliantly orchestrated thenation’s fear of terrorism into a winning position. Support him, hewill protect us, take the fight to the treacherous enemies and crushthem. He has reminded us relentlessly of what we most fear. For many, itfelt reassuring to hear his resolve. But the brave-cowboy act is over. Hefailed himself yesterday in the White House press room.
George W. Bush called the press conference to sell hope–givepeople a reason to keep on believing–but trampled his own objective.Instead, he deepened the public’s fear–not of Muslim terrorists–but of his own leadership at war. Does this guy know what he’s doing? He got us into this mess; does he know how to get us out?
A fatal admission was revealed when Bush was asked whether he couldenvision a day when US troops were out of Iraq. The Presidentshrugged, as though the question does not apply to him. "That’ll bedecided," Bush said, "by future presidents and future governments ofIraq." When I heard this, I thought, that’s going to be tomorrow’sheadline. Sure enough, it was in the Washington Times, a conservativenewspaper that always rallies to Bush’s side. "Bush commits until2009," the banner headline declared.
That remark shuts down hope and kicks it out the door. Want to bringthe troops home? For the next three years, forget it. Bush’s comment,it is true, was more ambiguous than the headline. But it’s too late forWhite House amplifications. The headline is the shorthand that willlinger in public consciousness, repeated endlessly in the politicalchatter.
Does this guy have a clue? His tone of casual dismissal sends achill down the spine. His press conference blunder will stalk George Bush until he either makes a big change in policy or personnel or actually gets us out of Iraq. He can’t just smirk and walk off the stage.