Friday, December 16, 2005

Bush On The Couch; talking out of his head

George W. Bush sat down for an interview with Fox News anchor Brit Hume Wednesday, and the result was some sort of political Rorschach test on names in the news.

Sounding more like a psychiatrist than a journalist, Hume began his chat with the president by saying, "I want to ask you about some of the people around you and your relationship with them and how they stand with you." Here's how Bush responded.

On Donald Rumsfeld: "He's done a heck of a job. He's conducted two wars, and at the same time is out to transfer my military from a military that was constructed for the post-Cold War to one that is going to be constructed to fight terrorism." Asked if Rumsfeld will stay through the end of Bush's second term, the president said: "Yes. Well, the end of my term is a long time, but I'll tell you, he's doing a heck of a good job. I have no intention of changing him." Translation: I'm not firing Rumsfeld, but he's outta here. If the equivocation on whether Rumsfeld is staying through the end of the term weren't clue enough, there's the odd use of the present perfect tense in the beginning of the answer -- "He's done a heck of a job." And then there's the use of "heck of a job" itself. Bush said that about FEMA director Michael Brown just before he was sent packing to Margaritaville. What does it mean that Rumsfeld gets two HOAJs? And is anyone else a little frightened when the president starts referring to the U.S. armed forces as "my military"?

Dick Cheney: "You know, the vice president goes through I guess what all people in Washington go through at some time or another. He's got a nasty speculation about whether he's running the government or not running the government, whether I like him or don't like him." How's that again? "All people in Washington" suffer through all sorts of problems -- the traffic sucks, there are never enough snow plows, the Nationals can't find a place to build a stadium -- but not many Washington residents endure "nasty speculation" about whether they're "running the government or not running the government." That particular group is pretty much limited to you and your vice president, sir.

More on Dick Cheney: "And the good thing about Dick Cheney is when he discusses a topic with me and he gives me his advice, I never read about it in the newspaper the next day." Perhaps that's because Bush is reading the wrong newspaper; the Wall Street Journal reported not long ago that Cheney's office tried to stop Bush from nominating Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

Karl Rove: Hume asked Bush about reports that he has grown more distant from his chief political advisor. Bush's response: "Somebody said that was recent speculation, and we're still as close as we've ever been. We've been through a lot. When I look back at the presidency and my time in politics, uh, no question Karl had a lot to do with me getting here. And I value his friendship. We're very close." Will these words come back to haunt the president? One might presume that Patrick Fitzgerald isn't working with a new grand jury for nothing, but then one wouldn't be Brit Hume. In the set-up to the question about Rove, Hume said that the president's top political advisor has endured "some trials and tribulations -- and they appear largely to be over now."

Jack Abramoff: "I'm -- you know, the Abramoff -- I'm frankly not all that familiar with a lot that's going on up there on Capitol Hill. But it seems like to me that he was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties. Yes, I mean, it's really important for all of us in public life to have the highest of ethics. So we can only trust the American people." Is that because we can't trust the president? Bush would like to portray Abramoff as a congressional problem and an equal-opportunity one at that. But the indicted lobbyist has enjoyed close ties to the president and boasted of raising more than $120,000 for his reelection campaign. And the fact is that Abramoff, his firm and his clients were far more generous to Republicans than to Democrats, in part because Republicans have control in Washington and in part because Abramoff has always been closely aligned with the GOP: He was the president of the College Republicans in the 1980s, and he's close with both Rove and Rep. Tom DeLay.

Tom DeLay: Asked whether he hopes and expects that DeLay will be exonerated so that he can return to his seat as House majority leader, Bush said: "Yes. At least, I don't know whether I'm expecting it. I hope that he will." Asked his opinion of DeLay's prosecutor, Travis County district attorney Ronnie Earle, Bush said: "I'm not going to go there, simply because I want -- I want this trial to be conducted as fairly as possible. And the more politics that are in it, the less likely it's going to be fair." But then Hume asked Bush if he thinks DeLay is innocent, and the president said: "Do I? Yes, I do." Which leads us to ask: Whatever happened to the idea -- so often expressed by someone named George W. Bush -- that you shouldn't go around "prejudging" an ongoing investigation?

-- Tim Grieve

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