Meet the 'Real Bush'

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, April 3, 2006; 12:48 PM

So "let Bush be Bush" appears to be the new rallying cry at the White House. But if this is the "real" President Bush then who has the answers to our questions? Because folksy bantering Bush is as fundamentally unforthcoming as his old scripted self.

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "As he takes to the road to salvage his presidency, Bush is letting down his guard and playing up his anti-intellectual, regular-guy image. Where he spent last year in rehearsed forums with select supporters, these days he is more frequently throwing aside the script and opening himself to questions from audiences that are not prescreened. These sessions have put a sometimes playful, sometimes awkward side back on display after years of trying to keep it under control to appear more presidential.

"Call it the let-Bush-be-Bush strategy. The result is a looser president, less serious at times, even at times when humor might seem out of place. Aides used to dread such settings, worried about gaffes or the way Bush might come across in spontaneous exchanges. But with his poll numbers somewhere south of the border, they concluded that Bush handles back-and-forth better than he once did -- and that they have little left to lose."

But as Baker points out: "To many critics, such forums still feel contrived, and the fratboy towel-snapping humor unbecoming. Nor does the new format mean Bush always answers questions as directly as inquisitors might like."

That's an understatement. As I wrote in last Thursday's column , Bush's typical response is a long, rambling amalgamation of familiar talking points only generally related to what he was asked.

Straight Talk -- or Not?

Michael Reagan , son of the former president, writes in his syndicated column that the nation is seeing "the real George W. Bush emerge . . . being exactly what he knows himself to be: a no-nonsense chief executive who is sure of himself, knows his job, knows how to do it, and doesn't care a whit if the media elite and the desperate Dems don't like it.

"This is Bush being Bush -- and he must keep being Bush. The desperate Dems will hate it, the liberal media will hate [it] and the American people will eat it up. As I wrote, they like a fighter. That's what they are seeing now."

Blogger Teresa Nielsen Hayden writes: "Bush is to public discourse as Three Card Monte is to card game. . . .

"Bush doesn't really talk to us. When it's advantageous or required, he'll go through the motions of talking to us; but that's all. What it 'means' is that he either has to do it, like the State of the Union speech; or he wants something from us, like votes; or he's tossing out a string of words calculated to endear him to some fraction of the citizenry, like 'manned missions to Mars' or 'Constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage.' He doesn't care what he's saying, and afterward he doesn't consider himself bound by what he's said."

Moves Afoot?

Suzanne Malveaux reports for CNN: "Presidential press secretary Scott McClellan and Treasury Secretary John Snow could be next in a shake-up in the Bush administration, according to White House and GOP sources.

"The possible departure of both men could be among 'several senior-level staff' announcements to come within the next couple of weeks, said former White House staff members, GOP strategists and administration officials. . . .

"Under one scenario, Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, would replace McClellan, Republican officials said.

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