Tim Russert, dream interviewer
NBC's Tim Russert cherishes a reputation as network television's bulldog interrogator of wayward politicians. His image is good cop/bad cop in the same guy. This coming Sunday, the president will reportedly appear on "Meet the Press." That decision may well reflect, as Nick Confessore suggested today, Karl Rove's confidence that Russert isn't really so goddamned tough, especially not on Republicans. If so, Rove would be in rare agreement with many of Russert's critics on the left.
Knowing Russert, I think he would hate to confirm such nasty suspicions when he interviews George W. Bush (although he would also hasten to plead that some partisans on both sides are never satisfied, etc.). Let's help him with a few questions (and follow-ups) that nobody could call softballs:
1. Given the controversy about your attendance record during your National Guard service, Mr. President, perhaps the best way to resolve matters would be to authorize the release of all of your military records, including pay stubs, Social Security records and so-called retirement-points records. Will you do that? If not, why not, and how can the American people believe that you actually fulfilled your service obligations as everyone else in the Guard was required to do?
2. Mr. President, on page 54 of your autobiography, "A Charge to Keep," you wrote: "I continued flying with my unit for the next several years." But the truth is that you quit flying after less than two years, despite fighter training that cost the taxpayers almost a million dollars. Did your superiors approve your decision to quit flying, or did you just quit on your own? Weren't you suspended from flying in August 1972 after you failed to take a required physical exam? Why didn't you take that physical?
3. Mr. President, I'd like to ask you about the now-famous "mission accomplished" speech you gave on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln outside San Diego last May. You landed on the carrier in a flight suit -- a piece of videotape shown around the world. [Roll tape.] A lot of your critics were appalled by that image. Here's a man who never fought in a war, never saw the danger and horrors of real combat, dressing up like a soldier and proclaiming a victory that, as it turned out, we were far from accomplishing. As you look back on it, has it ever occurred to you, that Eisenhower, who won D-day, never dressed in uniform when he was president; John F. Kennedy, who was a genuine war hero, never dressed in uniform either. Was there something disrespectful to the military in a costume stunt like that? Your thoughts, sir.
4. You have blamed the rapidly rising, unsustainable federal deficits on "out-of-control" domestic spending. But Mr. President, the plain fact, according to every nonpartisan analyst, is that your tax cuts are responsible for a far greater percentage of present and future deficits than spending. Your current budget proposal cuts billions in programs for children and veterans. Wouldn't it be more compassionate -- and more responsible -- to rescind some of the tax breaks for the very wealthiest Americans?
5. Sir, with respect, most economists say that the tax cuts are responsible for no more than 20 percent of the recent economic growth, and that the recession could have been addressed with a short-term stimulus primarily aimed at middle- and working-class tax payers, rather than long-term tax cuts tilted toward the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers. These long-term tax cuts for the wealthy are the major cause for these massive structural deficits that we now have and the complete inability to fund some of these programs for children, the elderly and veterans. How does that reflect responsible Republicanism or compassionate conservatism?
You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. (My friend who helped formulate these queries is another.)
[1:30 p.m. PST, Feb. 5, 2004]