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Bush's War, Five Years On

This isn't the first time that Bush, who in his time used family connections to avoid going to Vietnam, expressed a misguided sense of bravado. Back in September, he told a group of military bloggers that he wished he could be alongside them -- only he's too old. See my column, Bush's Battlefield Envy.

Fred Kaplan writes for Slate: "If further proof were needed that President Bush resides in a dream world, he settled the issue on Thursday definitively. . . .

"Someone with such a jaunty vision of war -- concocted from who knows what brew of Rudyard Kipling, John Wayne, and sheer fantasy -- has no business leading young men and women into real-life battle, no business serving as the armed forces' commander in chief."

Legacy No. 2?

As the economy tanks, Bush responds with empty reassurances.

Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press this morning: "President Bush, trying to calm turmoil in financial markets, said Monday that his administration is 'on top of the situation' in dealing with the slumping economy.

"'One thing is for certain, we're in challenging times,' the president said after meeting with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and other senior economic advisers. 'But another thing is for certain: We've taken strong, decisive action.'"

Here's Bush on Friday, in a visit to the Economic Club of New York: "It seems like I showed up in a interesting moment -- (laughter) -- during an interesting time. . . .

"I'm coming to you as an optimistic fellow. I've seen what happens when America deals with difficulty. I believe that we're a resilient economy, and I believe that the ingenuity and resolve of the American people is what helps us deal with these issues. And it's going to happen again."

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post that "the centerpiece" of Bush's approach to the economy "is persuading the nation to share his confidence."

As it happens, those directly around him seem to be doing just fine. As Baker reports, Bush headed uptown after his speech to headline a $20,000-a-head, $1.4 million fundraiser for the Republican National Committee.

But the New York Times editorial board does a little fact-checking on Bush's cheerleading: "Mr. Bush said he was optimistic because the economy's 'foundation is solid' as measured by employment, wages, productivity, exports and the federal deficit. He was wrong on every count. On some, he has been wrong for quite a while."

One example: "Mr. Bush boasted about 52 consecutive months of job growth during his presidency. What matters is the magnitude of growth, not ticks on a calendar. The economic expansion under Mr. Bush -- which it is safe to assume is now over -- produced job growth of 4.2 percent. That is the worst performance over a business cycle since the government started keeping track in 1945."

Gail Collins writes in her New York Times opinion column: "Watching George W. Bush address the New York financial community Friday brought back many memories. Unfortunately, they were about his speech right after Hurricane Katrina, the one when he said: 'America will be a stronger place for it.' . . .

"The president squinched his face and bit his lip and seemed too antsy to stand still. As he searched for the name of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia ('the king, uh, the king of Saudi') and made guy-fun of one of the questioners ('Who picked Gigot?'), you had to wonder what the international financial community makes of a country whose president could show up to talk economics in the middle of a liquidity crisis and kind of flop around the stage as if he was emcee at the Iowa Republican Pig Roast."

Maureen Dowd writes in her New York Times opinion column: "Everyone here is flummoxed about why the president is in such a fine mood.

"The dollar's crumpling, the recession's thundering, the Dow's bungee-jumping and the world's disapproving, yet George Bush has turned into Gene Kelly, tap dancing and singing in a one-man review called 'The Most Happy Fella.' . . .

"[T]he more terrified Americans get, the more bizarrely carefree he seems. . . .

"In on-the-record sessions with reporters -- and more candid off-the-record ones -- he has seemed goofily happy in recent weeks, prickly no more but strangely liberated and ebullient. . . .

"Maybe the president is just putting on a good face to keep up American morale, the way Herbert Hoover did after the crash of '29, when he continued to dress in a tuxedo for dinner.

"Or maybe the old Andover cheerleader really believes his own cheers, and that prosperity will turn up any time now, just like the W.M.D. in Iraq.

"Or perhaps it's a Freudian trip. Now that he's mucked up the world and the country, he can finally stop rebelling against his dad and relax in the certainty that the Bush name will forever be associated with crash-and-burn presidencies.

"Whatever the explanation, it's plumb loco."

What is Bush really up to? Budget expert Stan Collender blogs that "as has been the case since the start of the Bush presidency, when it comes to economic issues the White House is trying to run out the clock, that is, to get to Inauguration Day in January 2009 without having to do anything and leave the problem for the next president and Congress to admit and deal with."

FISA Watch

Jonathan Weisman writes in Saturday's Washington Post: "A deeply divided House approved its latest version of terrorist surveillance legislation yesterday, rebuffing President Bush's demand for a bill that would grant telecommunications firms retroactive immunity for their cooperation in past warrantless wiretapping and deepening an impasse on a fundamental national security issue."

The House bill "would challenge the Bush administration on a number of fronts, by requiring upfront court approval of most wiretaps, authorizing federal inspectors general to investigate the administration's warrantless surveillance efforts, and establishing a bipartisan commission to examine the activities of intelligence agencies in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"Most provocatively, the House legislation offers no legal immunity for past actions by phone companies that participated in warrantless wiretapping and are now facing about 40 lawsuits that allege they breached customers' privacy rights. . . .

"Lawmakers from both parties said the gulf between the administration and House Democratic leaders is now so wide that the issue may not be resolved until a new president takes office next year."

Weisman explains why this is all so amazing: "Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, such showdowns have followed a predictable path: After some protests, Democrats have given in to White House demands, fearing the political fallout as Bush hammered them for allegedly endangering American lives.

"Last month, the Senate appeared to follow that script when it passed, with bipartisan support, a surveillance bill to Bush's liking after turning back the efforts of some Democrats to strip out the immunity provision and strengthen privacy protections.

"Bush appeared on the White House's South Lawn Thursday to demand House passage of the Senate legislation, warning lawmakers: 'The American people understand the stakes in this struggle. They want their children to be safe from terror.'

"Then the House went off script. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) responded by all but calling the president a liar.

"'We understand our responsibility to protect the American people. What the president is trying to do is something that we think should be stopped,' she said. 'I am stating a fact. The president is wrong, and he knows it.'"

The New York Times editorial board writes: "For more than two years now, Congress, the news media, current and former national security officials, think tanks and academic institutions have been engaged in a profound debate over how to modernize the law governing electronic spying to keep pace with technology. We keep hoping President Bush will join in.

"Instead, the president offers propaganda intended to scare Americans, expand his powers, and erode civil liberties -- and to ensure that no one is held to account for the illegal wiretapping he ordered after 9/11. . . .

"The president will continue to claim the country is in grave danger over this issue, but it is not. The real danger is for Mr. Bush. A good law -- like the House bill -- would allow Americans to finally see the breathtaking extent of his lawless behavior."

Julian Sanchez writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed: "Without meaningful oversight, presidents and intelligence agencies can -- and repeatedly have -- abused their surveillance authority to spy on political enemies and dissenters. . . .

"It's probably true that ordinary citizens uninvolved in political activism have little reason to fear being spied on, just as most Americans seldom need to invoke their 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech. But we understand that the 1st Amendment serves a dual role: It protects the private right to speak your mind, but it serves an even more important structural function, ensuring open debate about matters of public importance. You might not care about that first function if you don't plan to say anything controversial. But anyone who lives in a democracy, who is subject to its laws and affected by its policies, ought to care about the second.

"Harvard University legal scholar William Stuntz has argued that the framers of the Constitution viewed the 4th Amendment as a mechanism for protecting political dissent. In England, agents of the crown had ransacked the homes of pamphleteers critical of the king -- something the founders resolved that the American system would not countenance.

"In that light, the security-versus-privacy framing of the contemporary FISA debate seems oddly incomplete. Your personal phone calls and e-mails may be of limited interest to the spymasters of Langley and Ft. Meade. But if you think an executive branch unchecked by courts won't turn its 'national security' surveillance powers to political ends -- well, it would be a first."

Rove Watch

Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post about Karl Rove's new gig on Fox News: "No one would accuse the newly minted pundit of being balanced, but to the surprise of some critics, he has been generally fair-minded in his commentary. The man long derided by the left as 'Bush's brain' is trying to move beyond his attack-dog reputation. . . .

" Slate said the 'mild-mannered' Rove 'has merely offered clarity, concision, humility, good humor, good posture, and dispassionate analysis.' New York Times columnist David Carr called him 'one of the best things on television news right now . . . graceful, careful and generous.'"

Bush's Pitch

Will Nationals fans be so giddy about the opening of their new stadium that they'll even cheer a deeply unpopular president? That appears to be what the White House is counting on.

Barry Svrluga writes in The Washington Post: "Mark Lerner, one of the owners of the Washington Nationals, said Saturday that 'unless there's a national crisis,' President Bush has agreed to throw out the ceremonial first pitch when the Nationals open their new ballpark March 30 in a nationally televised game against the Atlanta Braves."

Now I really wish I'd bought tickets.

Late Night Humor

The Post's Peter Baker reviews White House press secretary Dana Perino's appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: "Perino was a good sport as he grilled her about Bush's relationship with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Iraq war, Helen Thomas, the CIA leak case and so on. At one point, he pressed her on whether she had ever been put in a position where she was not telling the truth. She smiled and said no.

"'Now is that because that's true,' Stewart asked as the audience laughed, 'or because they get you to the point where they break your spirit to the point where you truly believe?'"

Here's the video. Says Stewart: "The president has said he's going to sprint to the finish. . . . Can you get him to run faster?"

The Tribune's Mark Silva blogs that Stewart and Perino spoke about "presidential prerogative."

"'He can do anything, can't he?'' Stewart asked of Bush.

"'He can fly,'' Perino said with a smile."

Meanwhile, here's Jimmy Kimmel, via U.S. News: "In his Economic Club of New York speech, President Bush 'urged the businessmen and women in the audience not to overreact. And if you've ever seen the footage of him reading to the children on 9/11, you know one thing this guy doesn't do is overreact.'"

Cartoon Watch

John Sherffius, Stuart Carlson, Steve Sack, Joel Pett, Ben Sargent and Alan Moir on the Bush legacy;

Signe Wilkinson, Matt Wuerker and Steve Greenberg on torture; Mike Keefe on wiretapping; Dan Wasserman, Dwane Powell and Jack Ohman on Fallon and Iran; Ann Telnaes on Bush's romantic view of war.

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