Concierge in Chief

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, November 14, 2008; 12:38 PM

Nobody cares what President Bush has to say anymore, and that will become even more blisteringly obvious starting tonight, as he plays host to a group of world leaders worried about the international economy. Our sitting president is almost completely irrelevant, except to the extent that he can soak up blame for the world financial crisis -- and throw a good party.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Robert Pear write in the New York Times: "President Bush delivered an impassioned defense of free-market capitalism on Thursday, on the eve of an international summit meeting where he is expected to get a tongue-lashing from foreign leaders who view the United States and his administration as responsible for worldwide financial misery.

"In a defiant declaration in his waning days as president, Mr. Bush traveled to Wall Street -- ground zero for a financial crisis that has spread around the globe -- to declare that the American system is still 'the engine of social mobility' and deliver an apparent warning to the world's leaders, and the incoming Obama administration, not to draw the wrong lessons."

The Times calls Bush's speech "an attempt to put him front and center in advance of the summit meeting, and to frame the debate on his terms."

But it doesn't seem likely to work. "'He's going to be much more the host and much less the chairman than he realizes,' Adam S. Posen, who advises foreign governments on economic coordination, said of Mr. Bush. 'He's going to be providing the snacks and the venue and making sure everybody's comfortable, but he is not going to be driving the agenda; that's the reality. The agenda-setting is with Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy and Hu Jintao.' . . .

"For Mr. Bush it is another reminder that his days as 'the decider' are soon to be over."

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "After presiding over some of the most dramatic market interventions in U.S. history over the past two months, President Bush came to Wall Street on Thursday to urge world leaders not to venture too far down a path of government interference in capitalist economies. . . .

"Grant Aldonas, a former senior trade official in the Bush administration now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the tenor of the speech suggests Bush 'does not understand his moment.' He also said the administration has lost authority to argue against government intervention in the markets.

"'The disabling of capitalism has already begun and he's the one who started it,' Aldonas said. 'It rings hollow for an awful lot of people, not only in the marketplace but for world leaders abroad. . . . They are the ones who are going to have the leverage at the table.'"

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press that "the timing, just weeks before Obama takes office, couldn't be worse for the president, already saddled with historically low approval ratings and a legacy darkened by an unpopular war in Iraq and now the financial debacle.

"If the summit ends with little agreement, it will become a forgettable footnote of Bush's handling of the economic crisis.

"If it ends in discord, it could further spook financial markets, only aggravating the economic predicament that Obama will inherit on Jan. 20. . . .

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