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Repetitious, Yes, but They Didn't Cut and Run
After four engagements, the Bush-Murtha act was getting stale. When Murtha, a hawkish retired Marine, first called for a pullout from Iraq last month, it was standing-room only. Yesterday, only six reporters showed up to see Murtha, who arrived early and stood, silently, at the lectern. Behind him in the House television gallery, titles on a bookshelf were visible: "A History of the American People," "Constitutional Law," and, appropriately for the dyspeptic Murtha, "Diseases of the Stomach."
By contrast, Bush's setting left nothing to chance: 24 flags behind him, four poinsettias in front, and top Cabinet members and supportive lawmakers planted in the audience. Yet for all the passionate words in his text, the president's delivery was muted. At one point he seemed not to be paying attention to what he was reading and ended a thought about the Iraqi elections in the middle of a sentence.
Bush had reason to be dispassionate. His four Iraq speeches, though different in emphasis, were full of numbing repetition. Washingtonpost.com's Adrian Holovaty did a computer analysis of the four Iraq speeches and found dozens of phrases repeated in all four. Bush invoked "democracy" 83 times, "freedom" 68 times and "security" 75 times. The president invoked "victory" 10 times in the 30-minute address -- more than the six victory mentions on Monday but fewer than the 11 on Dec. 7 and the 15 on Nov. 30.
The most noteworthy bit of Bush's speech might be what he didn't say. Heeding Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's advice not to use the word "insurgents" to describe the, er, insurgents, the president dropped the term. "The enemy of freedom in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists and Saddamists and terrorists," he substituted.
Even the White House was not pretending to cover new ground. Later, at the White House briefing, CBS's John Roberts asked White House spokesman Scott McClellan about Bush's statement that "I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq."
"I don't think that's new," the press secretary cautioned.
Not much was.
Saddam Hussein failed to meet the "just demands" of the world, Bush said for the 14th time, according to a search of the White House's Web site. Congress saw "the same intelligence" about Iraq's weapons as Bush did, he said for the 102nd time. "Free nations are peaceful nations," he said for the 19th time.
For the 21st time, the president affirmed that the world's most dangerous men should not have the "world's most dangerous weapons." For the 33rd time, he extolled the "spread of freedom." And, for the 126th time in a speech as president, he said capitulation to terrorists will not "happen on my watch."
The audience apparently recognized the boilerplate. Before long, the BlackBerrys came out and many of Bush's listeners were fidgeting. A young woman, leaving the speech, called her father to report on what she'd seen. "Hey dad, guess who I sat next to," she said. "Karl Rove!"