Monday, September 13, 2004

When the Times makes up news stories out of thin air, it usually precedes them with titles like "White House Letter," or "News Analysis," as a way to tell its readers that nothing worth of reporting is contained in the story.

The latest "White House Letter" by Elizabeth Bumiller is puzzling. Entitled "Before Friendly Audiences on the Trail, a Looser, Livelier Bush Appears" the article provides a long record of Bush's gaffes before critical audiences,

There is also no disputing that Mr. Bush can falter in front of more skeptical audiences, as he did at a convention of minority journalists in Washington last month.

The president got so twisted up in response to a question about tribal sovereignty - "tribal sovereignty means that it's sovereign'' - that the crowd started laughing at him.

Last Monday at a rally in Poplar Bluff, Mo., the president was into his usual riff against malpractice lawsuits when he said, without missing a beat, that "too many Ob-gyns aren't able to practice their love with women all across the country'' - an apparent crossed wire with the president's stump speech to religious groups, in which he invariably says that government cannot put love in a person's heart.

The day before, in Parkersburg, W.Va., Mr. Bush said that he asked Congress last September for $87 billion to help pay for "armor and body parts'' in Afghanistan and Washington.

And two days before that, the president mangled a favorite line about Mr. Kerry and the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Senator John Edwards, who were two of four senators to vote for the use of force in Iraq but against the $87 billion spending package.

"Two of those four,'' Mr. Bush cheerily concluded, "are my running mate and his opponent.''
Bumiller, however, notes that when Bush is speaking to a group of pre-selected Republicans he seems to be much more relaxed (duh):
But on the campaign trail, where the invited crowds are kept friendly because opponents are sometimes arrested for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts or dragged from events by their hair, there is a different President Bush. He is looser and livelier, a former Andover cheerleader who has learned how to rouse the crowd...
Incredibly, the article then goes on to conclude that Bush is damn good on the campaign trail:

"I wish he was half as good a president as he is a campaigner,'' said Representative Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, a former top aide to President Bill Clinton.

But there is no disputing the president's enthusiasm for this part of his job, particularly now that polls show him leading, and the way the invited crowds lap up his colloquialisms, malapropisms and Texas twang. (It intensifies west of the Mississippi.)

Even some Democrats begrudgingly give Mr. Bush good marks for his style on the stump.

"He doesn't have the stamina of a Clinton or the charisma of a Reagan, but when he's on his game, and he's not tired, he has a folksy, down-home approach that works for him,'' said Paul Begala, the CNN talk show host who worked in the White House for Bill Clinton and is now informally advising Mr. Kerry's campaign.
Let's see: Bush screws up so hopelessly in front of critical audiences that his handlers eject anyone who is not a supporter from the campaign trail. However, before cherry picked Republican audiences, Bush actually does OK. How exactly does one get to the conclusion that Bush is good?

Isn't the very point of campaigning to win over votes that you did not have? And given that President Bush is speaking to Republican activists in these events, his success must be measured by the coverage generated in the press. And Bumiller's story, with its long catalogue of gaffes and screw-ups, its ruthless allusions (Bush is good because "he was a cheerleader at Andover" - did you know Bush used to be a cheerleader? You do now) seems to undermine the very point it is making.


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