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April 14, 2004

Ladies and gentlemen, the most powerful man on Earth. Thank you, thank you, we’re here all week. George W. Bush, at last night’s press conference, answers the question “After 9-11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have learned from it?”
I wish you’d have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it.

John, I’m sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could’ve done it better this way or that way. You know, I just—I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with answer, but it hadn’t yet.

As Dave Pell observed, this fantastically challenging question is “right out of every job interview in American history.” Oh, that’s right, he’s probably never had to do one of those.

Eric Rauchway, today’s Eric Alterman fill-in, describes his own reaction to that jawdropper:

Has ever a President uttered more demoralizing words in the course of seeking to reassure Americans and the world? (“I am not a crook,” maybe.) I wish the President to stand by our troops now in peril on foreign shores. I wish the President to protect us from terrorist attacks at home. I wish the President to preside wisely over a vigorous and free economy and society. I wish the President were able to stand up to the pressures of those jobs. But the President cannot even come up with an answer to a question he said, mere seconds before, he has “oftentimes [thought] about” over the last couple of years: “You’ve looked back before 9-11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9-11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have learned from it?” The President replied, “I wish you’d have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it.” And then he then explained about the pressure of press conferences.

Honestly, I was truly astonished to feel so saddened at that moment. I hadn’t supposed any appreciable confidence in the President’s ability remained in me. But it turns out I am enough of a Pollyanna to have held out some secret hope, at least till then.

Via Billmon, here’s the shorter version of the press conference. [01:36 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Ladies and gentlemen, the most powerful man on Earth. Thank you, thank you, we're here all week.:

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 02:28 PM:

I listened to the conference on the radio, while out for my evening walk. I wish I'd seen it on TV, so I could see Bush's puss and the audiance reaction.

(I like to think it would be like when a cartoon character says something wrong, and everyone stares, speechless, with only the sound of a cricket and a stray cough to break the stunned silence.)

If the ladies and gentlemen of the press had just a trifle more chutzpah, they could have pushed the guy over the edge by asking:

"I'd like you to give a straight answer to _just one_ of the three questions you weasled out of this evening."

Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 03:49 PM:

I guess if hatred of Americans is enough to convince Iraqis to support an obvious kook and Iranian puppet, Americans can be fooled into thinking that Bush is competent and has our best interests at heart. See. We're really not that different than they are. It's all just a matter of scale.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 04:40 PM:

Stefan, it's not too late: CSPAN has the press conference available for RealMedia players at

Questions start about half an hour into it. This particular question is at about the 50 minute 50 second mark. My impression is that he was actually prepared for this question, that it HAD been submitted and cleared ahead of time: he's talking much too easily and clearly for me to easily believe that his response was actually impromptu.

Jack Womack ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 04:42 PM:

Having watched the press conference myself last night, and then having read more than a few comments today along the lines of Andrew Sullivan's:

>>I found the president clear, forceful, impassioned, determined, real. This was not an average performance. I found it Bush at his best. He needs to do it more.

I'd say it's obvious that at this stage Bush support is indistinguishable from tulipmania.

rea ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 05:39 PM:

"This was not an average performance. I found it Bush at his best."

Two true sentences from Sullivan's remarks, anyway . . .

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 05:44 PM:

I was not able to see or hear the press conference last night (I was inside handling a chapel service) but I worked my way through the transcript as well as hearing excepts from it.

Or I should say I tried to read through it -- there were moments my head was about to explode. My wife told me when I got home last night that she spent some of the time yelling "just answer the @$%&* question" at the TV. My only comment on most of the comment is that I think Saletan at Slate has this one about right. The one thing that seems to matter with Bush is that he stays consistent with himself and what he has said in the past. Any correspondence between the real world and what is going on in his head is coincidental.

But what struck with the most force was how fully Bush expects to run for re-election this year with Iraq as the major issue. Considering the unprecedented nature of this war, that's a good thing, in my opinioh. But I have rarely seen a major politician so completely make his political future a hostage to fate. And by the nature of the questions last night (including some that for some strange reason he did not expect) it appears that the "Victorian gentlemen of the press" (thank you Tom Wolfe) have finally decided to pull their chairs up nice and close and watch.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 05:46 PM:

Some days I hope that preview will include a little daemon that will slap me up side the head when I screw up a sentence. The phrase "most of the comment" in the second paragraph of my previous post should simply dissappear.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 06:43 PM:

I wonder if Cheney will wear a glove when he has his hand up Bush's ass at the 9/11 meeting?

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 07:39 PM:

Naah -- they went high tech years ago with digital remote control. The problem is that it works by infrared when a direct fiber connection is unavailable. That's why Cheney has to be there. It's much more hygenic.

Kris Hasson-Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 07:58 PM:

I didn't watch it, but reading the furor over this particular section made me wonder why people are assuming he was stupid and unprepared. Why did you believe him? You keep saying he lies, so why believe this one?

I doubt he was unprepared; I bet that was the prepared response. He's corrupt enough to do it. I'm not at all surprised he'd say that, because I doubt he ever thinks about his mistakes. But he's smart enough (or his handlers are) to realize he needs an in-character response to that question, and I'd just bet this one was formulated just in case.

NelC ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 08:43 PM:

I dunno. The little bits I've heard and seen on British TV and radio (not necessarily unbiased, I'll allow) just made him sound and look like an idjit; if that was a prepared answer, then I agree it was in-character to appear to be an idjit, but why would he want to do that?

Unless... we're supposed to think that the reason he can't think of another mistake is because he has never made one? In which case he was let down by his delivery. He just sounded like a twit. Or an idjit.

dmm ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 09:26 PM:

As Dave Pell observed, this fantastically challenging question is “right out of every job interview in American history.” Oh, that’s right, he’s probably never had to do one of those.

And of course, the way you're supposed to answer this is by saying "My biggest failing is that I work too hard." In W's case, maybe the deer-in-the-headlights response is the better choice.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 10:47 PM:

What I saw in the "I wish you'd submitted that as a written question beforehand" section was expert playing to wavering Republicans, letting them believe that George W. Bush can actually take an unprepared question, reflect on it, and be "humble" but "confident." Democrat scum are obviously all wrong about the man, this is the Real George W. Bush.

What Democratic voters think isn't important when W's poll numbers go below 50%.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 10:49 PM:

P.S. I think that it's important that anybody who has an opinion about that part of the performance watch the whole thing. A sound bite really won't give you a feeling for how his lines build up George W. as (to paraphrase Dashiell Hammett on Alan Ladd) a small boy's idea of a war-time President.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 03:05 AM:

And on top of all that, Jordin says somebody let him go on TV with a tie the cameras couldn't cope with. (I can't watch the little weasel.) What, are they going for a sympathy vote?


Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 03:41 AM:

As best I can figure out, that tie must have been made from the coveted skin of the Hypno-Toad. Which would actually explain a lot about the response to the press conference from certain quarters.

Silicon.shaman ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 03:55 AM:

You know what, if there was some power-behind-the-throne figure occupying the shadowy corridors of power in the White House. They couldn't have picked a better figure-head than Bush, and they couldn't have set him up better to take a fall in November than making him look like such an idiot.

Or are we supposed to think the man is a complete buffon, when in fact it's all a careful ruse so we "misunderestimate" his evil genius...

So, conspiracy, or does his speech writer just hate him ?
[or maybe I've been reading too many comic books].

Elric ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 09:48 AM:

I listened to parts of the performance on the radio. What got me was that, especially after listening to the weasel-speak cited above, the commentator (on NP*bleeping*R!) observed that the Resident "had been resolute in refusing to admit that he had made mistakes." What the devil is the length of the tape delay they were using? It sounded to me as though he was floundering and had no clue how to give a rational reply to what should have been a straightforward question.

What sort of handlers does this guy have, that he hadn't been drilled repeatedly in how to either answer exactly that question, or duck it without sounding like an embarassed seventh-grader?

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 11:15 AM:

One of the aspects of the modern political scene I most dislike is that politicians learn to guide any question towards a prepared statement. Bush's response to the "biggest mistake" question was very clearly a matter of floundering for a while (45 seconds or so of "I wish this had been written" and "I'm sure history will think of something") before he hits upon a segue ("I'd still invade Afghanistan") to a prepared statement ("I'd still invade Iraq knowing what I know now about the WMD situation") that had almost nothing to do with the question.

Al Gore was particularly bad about that, but at least his prepared statements made sense.

Barbara ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 09:31 PM:

I guess I lack the political fortitude I once had. I watched the opening few minutes in stunned silence, then turned it up so I could hear it from the other room. That done I fled to the safety of my computer and went online. Hearing it was bad enough. I couldn't take the visuals.

First coherent thought, I swear, was "A complete neophyte running for dog catcher in Missoula would know not to wear that tie on television. What the hell were they thinking?".

It was like a one hour trip through a voter's version of the five stages of grief. I was stunned, then I began talking back to the television, then I got so angry I would sit with my hands locked on the edge of the desk. Slowly, the sheer fact of how out of his depth he was hit me. I thought I knew, but this was a whole new magnitude, I needed an entire new scale of measurement. Finally, as he dodged question after question, I got to the final stage.

I pulled out my voter's registration, stuck it on the upper corner of my monitor and swore I would not let a single day between now and the election pass without talking to someone about why Bush must be sent home to Texas.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 11:59 PM:

Now that's patriotism.

(I'm not joking.)

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 12:38 AM:

It is a constant source of bemusement for me, the way the mainstream media uses generally-considered-positive terms (e.g., "resolute") to describe represehensible behavior (i.e., piggish stupidity). Even now, after all that's happened, it's like they're hyp-motized.

I've come to the conclusion that the press, as a culture, has long since fallen under the some primate hormonal spell of Alpha Male-dom as the royalists of old -- the same spell that clutched many people for a while, post 9-11.

Strict hierarchy. Crime and punishment. Order. Moral simplicity. It has a powerful appeal. In a modern world, with its high degree of complexity and powerful countervailing currents, it can be truly disastrous.


adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 08:26 AM:

Elric, if you haven't noticed by now the ass-licking tendencies of NPR, then listen to Juan Williams' interviews of administration officials on Morning Edition, which can be summed up in two words:

Kissy butt.

Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 11:44 AM:

The key phrase there isn't "NPR" -- it's "Juan Williams." He is, if I recall, a Fox "News" agent.

Obviously, he didn't shoot his way on to NPR, or anything; but the rest of their news operation is nowhere near as bad as he is.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 12:27 PM:

Barbara: Brava! An example to us all. I'll try to do that too.

Ray Radlein: you're right, it's Juan Williams. I think he only has that job because NPR needs SOMEONE who can actually get into the Bush Bunker (formerly known as the White House). I'd rather have nothing than his softball questions and smarmy sucking-up. For a while I thought it was just me.

Maybe they're trying to be "balanced." After all, they also have sane reporters who actually do their jobs...Juan Williams makes up for a dozen of those at one swipe.

Nina ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 02:43 PM:

I don't think he's psychologically capable of admitting he made a mistake. It's telling.

One of his less-publicized speaking gaffes was the following phrase - "You know the old saying - fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice... we won't get fooled again."

He can't have forgotten the real way that saying goes, can he? All the coke-addled brain damage can't explain messing up something so simple. No, he is psychologically unable to say "shame on me". Because he believes something, it is right and good.

He probably still thinks it was a good idea to trade Sammy Sosa.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 05:12 PM:

Let me make sure we're talking about the same NPR: This is the place where Haley Barbour was a commentator for quite some time.

Really, the liberal fetish for NPR continually astounds me. Unlike most of the other national broadcast news outlets, it doesn't universally suck, but that's setting the bar low.

If I never hear Cokie Roberts or Scott Simon again in my life (I say this as someone who liked Simon in the eighties and early nineties, when NPR aspired to be the American BBC), I'll be very happy. Well, no, that's not quite true--I do tune in every Saturday morning to hear Daniel Schorr, and Scott Simon is good when he has Schorr, a man worth listening to, there as an example.

Really, now--did anyone else hear Ketzel Levine with Laura Bush on Morning Edition this week? Yuck! All Things Considered isn't so bad compared to Morning Edition, but again, that's a low bar.

jj ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 10:19 PM:

I've always found that "fess up" question to be a demeaning piece of gamesmanship. I am not particularly fond of Bush, but I was able to recognize that he was toying with the questioners. His fans were rotflol, slapping each other’s backs. It is a weakness of your crowd that they are tone deaf to this particular brand of humor. You show him so little respect. How can you complain about the way Clinton was treated. I am embarrassed by my friends these days.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2004, 06:11 PM:

Perhaps this new book can shed some light on the subject:

HORNSWAGGLED!!! How the Me of Now was Tricked by the Me of Yesterday into Going to War, by President George W. Bush


"Powtuckett, where do you stand on this issue, because frankly Colliflower, I am enhanced to head right into Iraq full bore, right now."

Colin hesitated, still tasting the nickname in the mouth of his brain. Then, with a grimace like a person who accidentally ate some of that sushi mustard, he carried on, "Sir, uh, I think you mean me, so, I would say, in regards to Iraq, remember the Pottery Barn Rule: You break it, you bought it."