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"Decision making requires a couple of things -- and then I'll answer some questions -- one: having a vision, having a set of beliefs, set of principles by which one makes decisions. You know, if you're constantly trying to make decisions based upon the latest poll or focus group, your decision making will be erratic. . . .
"Secondly, it's important to delegate. There's a lot of action in Washington, D.C., believe me, and I've got a lot of decisions to make. And so I delegate to good people."
That led into Bush's now-familiar ribbing of the advisers who are better-educated than he is: "I always tell Condi Rice, I want to remind you, Madam Secretary, who has the Ph.D. and who was the C student. (Laughter.) And I want to remind you who the advisor is and who the President is. (Laughter.) I got a lot of Ph.D.-types and smart people around me who come into the Oval Office and say, Mr. President, here's what's on my mind. And I listen carefully to their advice. But having gathered the device [sic], I decide, you know, I say, this is what we're going to do. And it's 'yes, sir, Mr. President.' And then we get after it, implement policy."
In a rare breach of his protective bubble, Bush was actually asked a few tough questions -- and got an eyeful of an angry anti-war T-shirt.
Dave Pidgeon writes for the Intelligencer Journal of Lancaster: "Manheim Realtor Gerry Beane was the first to speak and said, 'from man-to-man, taxpayer to president,' he believes the United States needs to disengage from Iraq.
"Beane sat next to Sherry Wolfe, who wore a pink T-shirt emblazoned with the words, 'GEORGE BUSH YOUR WAR KILLED MY FRIEND'S SON.'
"More than 3,800 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since 2003, including the person referred to on Wolfe's T-shirt, Brent Adams of Mountville.
"'Like you, I want them home,' Bush said. . . .
"A 10th-grader asked Bush why he wouldn't sit down with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to negotiate a settlement of ongoing rhetorical hostilities.
"The president said he would have direct talks with Ahmadinejad only if Iran would forego its nuclear weapons program. Iran says it's developing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
"'In other words, it's his choice, not mine anymore,' Bush said."
Here's a photo of Wolfe and her T-shirt.
Tom Knap of the Intelligencer Journal talked to Bill Adams, whose son Brent was commemorated on the T-shirt: "A letter Adams wrote to Bush, 'as one father to another,' was hand-delivered to the president by friend Sherry Wolfe during the Jay Group meeting.
"'He said he would read it,' Adams said.
"Adams said he wants closure -- and an explanation -- for his son's death."
Bush and the Food Bank Lady
Even the rare hardball questions at such events are easy for Bush to field because there's no follow-up. But Karen Woodings, special programs coordinator of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, got into an actual back-and forth with Bush yesterday.
Woodings took Bush to task for cutting -- and trying to eliminate -- the Commodities Supplemental Food program, a federal initiative that provides boxes of food to poor senior citizens.
Bush first tried a lighthearted approach to disarm Woodings. But when she continued to press, he confessed ignorance: "[L]ook, I don't know the program. Maybe I shouldn't make this admission, maybe I should try to bull my way through. I don't know the program; I'm sorry. I'll be glad to look into it. But just from a philosophical perspective, one of the wonderful things about the country is when there's a need, the average citizen steps up and helps fill the need through private charity."
I spoke to Woodings this morning, who told me: "I was surprised that he didn't know of the program, considering he's been attempting to eliminate it."
As for the role of private charity: "We have incredibly generous donors," she said, "but that doesn't always fill the need. . . . I don't think it gets him off the hook, and I plan to continue to pursue this with the folks he puts me in touch with."
I noted that a lot of people don't have the guts to talk back to the president. "I couldn't not," Woodings said. "I asked the question because I wanted an answer. . . . I didn't just want to let the matter drop."
The Power of Diplomacy
Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post: "Three years ago this month, President Bush met Democratic challenger John F. Kerry in a debate and declared that Kerry's answer on negotiations with North Korea 'made me want to scowl.'
"Bush said that Kerry was advocating a 'naive and dangerous' policy of offering to conduct bilateral negotiations with Pyongyang in parallel with the six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear ambitions. 'That's what President Clinton did,' Bush asserted, saying Kerry's idea would undermine the six-party talks. Clinton 'had bilateral talks with the North Korean, and guess what happened: He [Kim Jong Il] didn't honor the agreement.'
"If there was any doubt, yesterday's announcement in Beijing of a new agreement with North Korea demonstrates how much Bush has adopted the approach he once condemned. The agreement was reached after bilateral negotiations between the United States and North Korea, held in parallel with the six-nation talks, just as Kerry had suggested."
Michael Hirsh writes in Newsweek: "'To get something in this world, you've got to give something,' Chris Hill told reporters on Wednesday. That pretty much sums up why Hill, a veteran State Department negotiator and no ideologue, may be on the verge of achieving the Bush administration's biggest diplomatic success to date."
But, Hirsh writes, "in a confrontation of potentially far greater significance -- with Iran -- the Bush administration isn't looking hard enough for a negotiated way out. "
Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post that the White House yesterday "said it is opposed to a House bill that would extend current federal law covering Defense Department contractors overseas to those working for the State Department. A statement from the Office of Management and Budget said the bill was too vague and would have unspecified 'intolerable consequences for crucial and necessary national security activities and operations.'"
Anne Flaherty writes for the Associated Press that the bill passed in the House today by a vote of 389-30.
Federal Government Incompetence Watch
Eric Lipton writes in the New York Times: "It started off early Wednesday as an innocuous request from a North Carolina businessman to the Homeland Security Department. He was responding to a daily antiterrorism bulletin by asking that it be sent to another e-mail address.
"But by afternoon, a programming flaw involving the 'reply' function transformed that e-mail message into a flood of more than 2.2 million messages nationwide that clogged the e-mail accounts of government and private experts on domestic security. . . .
"The accident raised questions among cybersecurity experts about how well prepared the Homeland Security Department is to defend against a cyberattack because it had trouble dealing with this computer problem.
"'It is a very simple fix,' said Marcus H. Sachs, a volunteer computer security expert at the SANS Internet Storm Center. 'Do they not have anybody there that understands how to fix it?'"
Battle of the Legacies
When it comes to would-be 44s, it's a lot better to be associated with 42 than 43.
Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post: "Former president Bill Clinton has emerged as a clear asset in his wife's campaign for the White House, with Americans offering high ratings to his eight years in office and a solid majority saying they would be comfortable with him as first spouse, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. . . .
"Two-thirds of Americans said they approve of the job he did while he was in office -- virtually the reverse of President Bush's current approval rating, which stands at 33 percent. Clinton remains overwhelmingly popular among Democrats, and 63 percent of independents and even a third of Republicans also gave him positive marks."
Is this the Dana Perino influence? The White House sent out three unusually aggressive, partisan missives to the press corps yesterday. There was a " Setting the Record Straight" memo aimed at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a list of " Ten Questions For The Democrats' Housing Press Conference" that also appeared on the RNC Web site, and then a summary of Bush housing policies entitled "In Case The Democrats Missed It."
Skip Hollandsworth interviews Jenna Bush for Texas Monthly: "I ask her if, in the waning days of his administration, the president is truly at ease, as he seems to be. She gives me a long look. 'No,' she finally says, 'not all the time. He acts like he's at ease--or tries to act like it--but he's not always.' She's looking forward to January 2009, she adds, so that her parents can return to Texas and can 'just relax. They really can't relax right now.'"
I'll be off tomorrow and Monday (Columbus Day). The column will return on Tuesday, Oct. 9.
Late Night Humor
Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert: "Mr. President, for leading us to a bold commitment to finalize a goal for future possible action to solve global warming, you, sir, are my Alpha Dog of the Week."