Monday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
February 9, 2004 7:43PM (UTC)

Bush's weakness
Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times analyzes the president's Meet the Press interview and suggests that what had been considered a plus for Bush -- his resolve -- was morphing into a weakness as it looks more like Bush will justify his actions at any cost. "With polls showing Americans uneasy over the economy and the mission in Iraq, Bush faces the risk that his unyielding defense of his decisions will strike many Americans less as determination than rigidity. 'What's happening is he is losing the trust of the public,' said presidential historian Robert Dallek. 'That's what the numbers are telling us. The public likes a pragmatist. If you are an opportunist, they don't like you; but if you are too rigid about your principles, they don't like you either.'"

Conservatives losing their compassion for Bush
Peggy Noonan watched Bush's Meet the Press performance and the former Reagan speechwriter concluded that this president just isn't good at interviews. "The president seemed tired, unsure and often bumbling. His answers were repetitive, and when he tried to clarify them he tended to make them worse. He did not seem prepared. He seemed in some way disconnected from the event."

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Noonan wasn't the only conservative griping about Bush's missed opportunity to defend his record. John Podhoretz in the New York Post said Bush "didn't deliver a peak performance on Meet the Press yesterday in the midst of the dreariest days of his presidency," and gave a rundown of other conservatives' criticisms. "National Review magazine's Web site was firing on all cylinders as participants in its blog, The Corner, threw brick after brick at the president. Talk-show host Michael Graham called it a 'disaster.' Rod Dreher, formerly of this paper and now of the Dallas Morning News, said Bush made him wince: 'He looked nervous, defensive and intellectually insecure.' The vituperative John Derbyshire called Bush 'pretty dismal.'"

For his part, conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan called the president "frighteningly unaware of the reality of his own legacy and policies," referring to the Bush budget. "That's the only conclusion you can draw from his answers on Tim Russert. Either that, or he really is lying," Sullivan wrote.

The patrician goes for populism
The New York Times gives a preview of what may be a general election theme should John Kerry become the Democratic nominee: Can the patrician relate to the masses? "In what may well be the homestretch of his race for the Democratic nomination, Senator John Kerry, facing down a populist challenge from Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, is also working hard to overcome, for want of a better phrase, his patrician upbringing The man who now tosses footballs and plays hockey with firefighters once regaled reporters on his bus with the poetry of Pablo Neruda, Shakespeare and T. S. Eliot."

Wounds to heal in Michigan
Many Michigan Democrats felt snubbed when candidates ignored the state as the outcome of Saturday's caucuses became apparent days before voters ever met. As expected, John Kerry ran away with the vote. But the Detroit News reports that Detroiters, especially black voters there, feel so angry and frustrated in the aftermath of the caucuses that it could come back to haunt the party in November. "In what is likely to be a close contest in Michigan against President Bush, Kerry would need Detroit's vote, which in numerous past elections has sealed the fate of Michigan candidates But resentment in the city is hot over a string of missteps."

Among the problems: A coalition of African-American organizations has called for the resignation of a state party co-chair because several caucus sites were listed incorrectly or switched at the last minute. Also, the Rev. Al Sharpton was the only candidate to attend a forum sponsored by Detroit's NAACP chapter. "People have their noses out of joint and that has to be addressed," said Democratic State Co-Chairman Butch Hollowell, who met Sunday with Sheffield. "Democrats cant take for granted their most loyal constituency, which is the African-American vote."

Al Gore, unplugged
Former vice president Al Gore stole the show at a rally of Tennessee Democrats on Sunday, saying Bush "betrayed the American public by going to war in Iraq." The Dallas Morning News writes that Gore may have lost his home state in 2000, but he "brought the crowd of more than 2,000 to bedlam" with his blistering attacks on the president.

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"Those were the feelings that were betrayed by this president," Gore said, referring to patriotism felt after Sept. 11. "He took America on an ill-conceived foreign adventure dangerous to our troops, an adventure preordained and planned before 9-11 ever took place."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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