WASHINGTON, D.C. — When even Matt Drudge starts noticing the sudden gabbiness of President Bush, you know something’s up. Readers of the Drudge Report were treated this morning to a photo of Bush with the caption of “Now a Press Conference.”
Turns out Bush wanted to tell America that his program of secret wiretaps and other techniques for spying on American citizens would continue, doggone it. “I’ve reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September 11 attacks and I intend to do so for so long as the nation faces a continuing threat from an enemy that wants to kill American citizens,” Bush said.
This morning’s press conference was the latest in Bush’s election-style P.R. blitz. Early indications are that having the president make speech after speech is working. While many people see the presidency of George Bush as falling apart, he may have just hit it lucky and instead be on the comeback trail.
Since his Hurricane Katrina debacle, Bush has been pumping out a carefully crafted campaign of speeches, photo ops, and statements all aimed at improving his standing — and that of the Republican Party — with the public. A recent Gallup poll, for instance, shows a slight uptick for Bush. Check out this latest from Gallup:
Late October and mid-November Gallup Polls showed Americans, by a 54% to 45% margin, saying the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq. The new Dec. 9-11 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows a more evenly divided public, with slightly more saying the war was not a mistake (50%) than saying it was (48%). The last time supporters outnumbered opponents on this measure was in late July.
Here are the highlights of Bush’s march to respectability, beginning with Katrina:
September 2: Bush fights back, touring hurricane-stricken areas of the South. In Mobile, he talks about the efforts of FEMA and its director, Michael Brown: “Again, I want to thank you all for — and, Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job. The FEMA Director is working 24 — (applause) — they’re working 24 hours a day.”
September 5: Bush again heads down South for more photo ops. Promising government help, he says, choking up, “This is just the beginning of a huge effort,”
September 6: The president is seen getting down to work. He meets with his cabinet and announces an investigation into the Katrina response. “What I intend to do is lead an investigation to find out what went right and what went wrong,” Bush says. “We still live in an unsettled world. We want to make sure we can respond properly if there is a WMD (weapons of mass destruction) attack or another major storm.”
September 9: Bush visits Capitol Hill to discuss a “joint bipartisan investigation,” with Speaker Dennis Hastert.
September 15: Bush speaks live from Jackson Square in New Orleans: “Tonight I propose the creation of a Gulf Opportunity Zone, encompassing the region of the disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama. Within this zone, we should provide immediate incentives for job-creating investment, tax relief for small businesses, incentives to companies that create jobs, and loans and loan guarantees for small businesses, including minority-owned enterprises, to get them up and running again. It is entrepreneurship that creates jobs and opportunity; it is entrepreneurship that helps break the cycle of poverty; and we will take the side of entrepreneurs as they lead the economic revival of the Gulf region.”
September 23: With Hurricane Rita approaching and criticism of the government’s response to Katrina growing, Bush hits the road. He starts out to see for himself hurricane preparations in Texas, but cancels the trip at the last moment because, as his spokesman Scott McClellan explains to reporters, he “did not want to slow the [hurricane preparations] process down” while personnel were on the move, according to McClellan. Instead, Bush goes to Peterson Air Force Base, HQ of the Northern Command, but then changes his mind and goes to Colorado, where he declares, “Our federal government is well organized and well prepared to deal with Rita. The first order of business now is search and rescue teams, to pull people out of harm’s way.”
October 4: At a White House press conference, Bush tries to look tough on spending while promoting hurricane relief: “Congress needs to pay for as much of the hurricane relief as possible by cutting spending. I’ll work with members of Congress to identify offsets, to free up money for the reconstruction efforts. I will ask them to make even deeper reductions in the mandatory spending programs than are already planned. As Congress completes action on the 2006 appropriations bills, I call on members to make real cuts in nonsecurity spending.”
October 11: Still pushing aid to the South, Bush, with Laura in tow, visits Delisle Elementary School, Pass Christian, Mississippi, for photo ops with the kids: “We’re delighted to see that the schools of Pass Christian are Blue Ribbon schools. They have been Blue Ribbon schools before and they’ll be Blue Ribbon schools in the future.”
October 13: With Iraq elections two months away, Bush opens a new front in his P.R. campaign with a video address to U.S. troops: “One of the tactics of the enemy is to shake our will. Part of their strategy is to use the killing of innocent people to get the American government to pull you out of there before the mission is complete. I’m going to assure you of this, that so long as I’m the president, we’re never going to back down, we’re never going to give in, we’ll never accept anything less than total victory. It’s important for you to know that; it’s important for the enemy to know that, as well.”
October 16: Again Bush pumps up Iraq, congratulating Iraqis for their commitment to elections: “This is a very positive day for the Iraqis and, as well, for world peace. Democracies are peaceful countries. The vote today in Iraq stands in stark contrast to the attitudes and philosophy and strategy of al Qaeda and its terrorist friends and killers.”
October 24: Bush meets with his cabinet to discuss hurricane aid and promises help: “We can meet our obligations if we set priorities.”
October 25: Bush talks to an Officers’ Wives luncheon: “We will not rest or tire until the war on terror is won.”
October 27: Bush is in Florida touring Hurricane Wilma damage: “I’ve also come to make sure the federal response dovetails in with the state response.”
October 28: White House tries to slip around Scooter Libby’s indictment in the Plame Affair. In announcing Libby’s resignation, Bush says, “While we’re all saddened by today’s news, we remain wholly focused on the many issues and opportunities facing this country.”
November 1: Bush takes the high road, telling the public he’s going to lead the way in preparing for a flu pandemic. At the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, he declares: “Our strategy is designed to meet three critical goals: First, we must detect outbreaks that occur anywhere in the world; second, we must protect the American people by stockpiling vaccines and antiviral drugs, and improve our ability to rapidly produce new vaccines against a pandemic strain; and, third, we must be ready to respond at the federal, state and local levels in the event that a pandemic reaches our shores.”
November 10: Bush is back talking about Louisiana: “We can’t imagine an America without a New Orleans.”
November 11: On Veterans Day he pumps up the war and attacks the Democrats at Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania: “Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war…And many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election.”
November 14: More on Iraq as Bush pauses in Alaska on his way to Asia: “Some of our elected leaders have opposed this war all along. I disagreed with them, but I respect their willingness to take a consistent stand. Yet some Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force are now rewriting the past. They are playing politics with this issue and they are sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy. And that’s irresponsible.”
November 30: Bush hits the Iraq issue afresh with a heavy propaganda assault. At the Naval Academy in Annapolis, he outlines the new “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq”: “If we were not fighting and destroying this enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle. They would be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our own borders. By fighting these terrorists in Iraq, Americans in uniform are defeating a direct threat to the American people.”
December 2: Bush speaks on the economy from the Rose Garden: “Thanks to good, old-fashioned American hard work and productivity, innovation, and sound economic policies of cutting taxes and restraining spending, our economy continues to gain strength and momentum.”
December 5: In Kernersville, North Carolina, the president again pushes his Iraq case, this time promoting the nation’s economic well-being: “This economy is strong and the best days are yet to come for the American economy.”
December 7: In yet another speech on Iraq, Bush says: “Iraq’s a nation with the potential for tremendous prosperity. The country has a young and educated workforce. They’ve got abundant land and water. And they have among the largest oil resources in the world.”
December 14: Bush admits he took the nation to war on bad intelligence: “When we made the decision to go into Iraq, many intelligence agencies around the world judged that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. This judgment was shared by the intelligence agencies of governments who did not support my decision to remove Saddam. And it is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As President, I’m responsible for the decision to go into Iraq — and I’m also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we’re doing just that.”
December 17: The president attacks the New York Times for exposing his practice of spying on U.S. citizens without court warrants: “This is a highly classified program that is crucial to our national security. Its purpose is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks against the United States, our friends and allies. Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country.”
December 18: Bush eats crow on national television: “It is true that many nations believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. But much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As your president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. Yet it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power.”
December 19: Lips still moving, Bush calls a morning press conference to make the nation feel better about his domestic spying on American phones: “These calls are not intercepted within the country, they are from outside the country to in the country or vice versa. So in other words, if you’re calling from Houston to L.A., that call is not monitored. And if there was ever any need to monitor, there would be a process to do that.”