“I think America is at its best when it leads toward an ideal. And certainly, a world without tyranny is an ideal world,” President Bush intoned Wednesday in the first press conference of his second term, before telling reporters that the details on that ideal world—like what it will cost, and who will pay for it—aren’t ready for discussion.
On Social Security, the premier domestic issue of his second term and perhaps in recent American history, the prez specifically refused to get into any “specific proposals.” The omitted details included how he might reduce benefits if private accounts were added, whether he believed tax reform should be tackled in the same breath as retirement savings, and if the estimated $2 trillion transition cost would be borrowed.
“I am going to continue to speak directly to the American people on this issue,” the president said, arguing that “the math” makes clear that the system is headed for crisis. (When Dubya asked one reporter how old his kid was in order to make an example of how terrible retirement will soon be, the prez had trouble with the calculations.)
At least Social Security is new territory; the “war on terrorism” is not. Yet the press had trouble getting specifics out of the president on that issue as well. When ABC’s Terry Moran pressed the president to condemn Jordan’s arrest of a dissident, Dubya demurred. Asked how the administration would reconcile its very vocal commitment to freedom with the poor rights records of allies and partners like Saudi Arabia and China, Bush made a break from the days of “you’re either with us or against us” and said, “I don’t think foreign policy is an either-or proposition.”
On the Iraqi elections coming up this Sunday, Bush called them “a grand moment,” saying that if he’d said a few years back that Iraq was having free elections, reporters “would look at me like some of you still look at me, with a blank expression.”
Blank indeed. While Bush declined to give specific answers, he didn’t expect reporters to get specific either. In fact, he sounded annoyed when they did, telling one media member, “Let me see if I can dissect your question into separate parts.”