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Bush and the 'Third Awakening'

Politics Watch

Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "As White House officials sought approval from television executives for a coveted prime-time broadcast of President Bush's Oval Office address commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, they said publicly that the speech would steer clear of politics. . . .

"But Bush's inclusion in his remarks Monday night of a stout defense of his policies in Iraq -- as well as his suggestion that a united front was needed on the subject -- sent Democrats scrambling to issue late-night responses and prompted at least one network to adjust its programming to make time for political analysis. And the controversy continued Tuesday, as debate flared over whether Bush inappropriately politicized a day set aside for memorials and solemn reflection."

Dana Milbank , writing in The Washington Post, notes the "arrival of Treason Season, heralded by the charged address President Bush gave on Monday's 9/11 anniversary."

Jim Rutenberg and Carl Hulse write in the New York Times: "At the White House, Tony Snow, Mr. Bush's spokesman, could hardly disguise his eagerness to go before the cameras to engage the Democrats on turf that Republicans have come to consider their own. He invited reporters who posed questions to him in the morning about Democratic complaints about the speech to ask again at his regular televised briefing, where he said Democrats were politicizing the anniversary and reasserted the White House line that a withdrawal from Iraq would turn it into a terrorist base."

But Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey write for Newsweek that Bush's speech "carried all the hallmarks of politics as honed and polished by President Bush in the 12 years he has held public office.

"The most important hallmark is a passive-aggressive strategy -- to land a punch without looking like you're in a fight. So Bush took the high road of patriotism, as he called for Democrats to stop opposing his policies in Iraq and elsewhere."

Bush himself entered the debate in his Oval Office interview: "Imagine what they would have said if I hadn't talked about Iraq -- 'failed policy, won't talk about it.' If did talk about Iraq -- then, 'It's politics.'" (Via Lowry and O'Beirne .)

Snow's press briefing featured some appropriately outraged reporters.

"Q Was the President's speech last night political?

"MR. SNOW: No.

"Q How can you say that? . . .

"MR. SNOW: What was the political statement? Tell me what the political sentence was. Give me the sentence.

"Q I'll tell you exactly what it was. It was a crystallized greatest hits of the eight-day period in which he made four speeches where he laid out his philosophical underpinnings about the war on terror heading into the election. And he boiled it down, crystallized it and laid it out last night on network TV for 17 minutes. And it was in direct contrast to what you came in here and told us Friday. . . .

"SNOW: . . . [W]hat the President was making reference to after September 11th -- the war on terror didn't end on September 11th, it began. It lifted the veil to us on a world that we didn't know existed, that we have to respond to. And it is also a real fact that the war in Iraq is clearly part of that war on terror, and where we proceed with it.

"Q You've got to stop right there, because that --

"MR. SNOW: Why do I have to stop right there?

"Q Because that is the central point that will be debated in the next eight weeks between Democrats and Republicans. That will be in large part what the midterm elections are decided on.

"MR. SNOW: I agree.

"Q Okay, So if the President takes time in a speech that was advertised by you at this podium on Friday as being non-political and no drawing of distinctions --

"MR. SNOW: I said it was no drawing of partisan lines.

"Q -- and he gets up last night and lays out his case, and essentially it is an advertisement for the next eight weeks --

"MR. SNOW: What you're saying is he shouldn't have talked about Iraq. Is that what you're saying?

"Q I'm saying that it wasn't consistent with what it was billed."

And later, the nut of Snow's weak argument: "We took great pains not to say 'Democrat versus Republican.'"


Snow was also confronted about Bush's statement Monday that "the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone."

Q "Has someone suggested that they feel the terrorists would leave us alone if we left Iraq?"

Snow: "No, what he's trying to do is to repeat to you exactly what the terrorists think. That sentence is not an attempt -- look, I have a feeling that some people may feel pain because they think it's pointing to them. It's not pointing to them, it's pointing at the terrorists. It's pointing at the terrorists who, again, want to engage in the fantasy -- they've learned the hard way once, and let's pray they don't learn the hard way twice -- they don't realize that we love our liberty and we love our country. And if they strike, we're going to strike back. That's what that's all about. That's as much a warning to terrorists as anything else. It's not a desire to start pointing fingers at members of Congress."

Caught With His Quotes Down

"Q Well, one more, Tony, just one more. Do you believe -- does the President still believe that Saddam Hussein was connected to Zarqawi or al Qaeda before the invasion?

"MR. SNOW: The President has never said that there was a direct, operational relationship between the two, and this is important. Zarqawi was in Iraq.

"Q There was a link --

"MR. SNOW: Well, and there was a relationship -- there was a relationship in this sense: Zarqawi was in Iraq; al Qaeda members were in Iraq; they were operating, and in some cases, operating freely from Iraq. Zarqawi, for instance, directed the assassination of an American diplomat in Amman, Jordan. But they did they have a corner office at the Mukhabarat? No. Were they getting a line item in Saddam's budget? No. There was no direct operational relationship, but there was a relationship. They were in the country, and I think you understand that the Iraqis knew they were there. That's the relationship.

"Q Saddam Hussein knew they were there; that's it for the relationship?

"MR. SNOW: That's pretty much it."

Senate Democrats swiftly sent out some culpatory quotes from the archives. Among them:

Bush's 2003 State of the Union message : "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal the Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own."

And his Feb. 8, 2003 Radio Address : "Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Senior members of Iraqi intelligence and Al Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent bomb-making document forgery experts to work with Al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided Al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training."

Meanwhile, in Ohio

Mike Wilkinson and Steve Eder write in the Toledo Blade: "Tom Noe, the GOP fund-raiser at the heart of Ohio's biggest political scandal in a generation, claimed that pressure from the Bush-Cheney campaign led him to commit the campaign-finance crimes for which he was sentenced yesterday to federal prison."

On-Camera Gaggle?

Jessica Yellin wrote for ABC News yetserday that "a bevy of White House correspondents got bent out of shape in this morning's White House briefing, known as the gaggle, when they discovered the White House had a camera trained on the reporters during what has always been a no-cameras-allowed event. . . .

"Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino explains that the cameras are operated by the White House TV/ White House Communications Agency and provide an internal feed that lets White House staff watch on-the-record briefings on an in-house channel. . . . [But] the gaggle (the morning briefing) is supposed to be an off-camera event. It's a strictly enforced policy: Reporters are not allowed to roll video because the gathering is a casual question-and-answer session.

"Now some reporters are asking if the White House has the red light on, why can't the press? . . . And another says, 'It makes you wonder why the staff would need to see the questioner.'"

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