Sidney Blumenthal's column today looks at the "Ask President Bush" rallies, the Bush-Cheney campaign's staged and controlled Q and A sessions which the Washington Post called "the campaign equivalent of the infomercial" and likened to a "support group" for Bush. Most people who showed up to Bush's Q and A in Wisconsin on Wednesday were either connected to the GOP or the event, the Post reported -- not exactly an open forum for political debate.
Of the "Q and A" rallies, Blumenthal writes: "Bush repeats the same speech, touting a 'vibrant economy' and his leadership in a war where 'you cannot show weakness.' He introduces local entrepreneurs who praise his tax cuts. (More than 1 million jobs have been lost in his term, the worst record since Herbert Hoover.) Then Bush calls on questioners. More than one-fifth of them profess their evangelical faith or denounce gay marriage. In Niceville, Fla., one said: 'This is the very first time that I have felt that God was in the White House.' 'Thank you,' replied Bush. Another: 'Mr. President, as a child how can I help you get votes?'"
Clearly, the brains behind the president's PR machine watched his last primetime press conference and found a slick way of making Bush appear to engage with the public while not being thrown any curveballs, like say, anyone asking him to reflect upon mistakes he has made, the question that repeatedly tripped him up when he faced the nation from the East Room last April.
The transcript of Wednesday's Bush event in Hudson, Wisc., shows just how hard-hitting these Ask the President sessions are:
"THE PRESIDENT: Let me answer some questions right quick."
"AUDIENCE : Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!"
"THE PRESIDENT: You can chant that, or I'll answer questions. (Laughter.) Yes, sir. Sit down, please. First of all, great color shirt. (Laughter.) Go ahead and yell it. If I don't like it, I'll just change the question. (Laughter.)"
"Q On behalf of all -- thank you and God bless you. We're praying for you."
"THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. He said he's praying for me. I appreciate that. Thanks. And, by the way, I appreciate the prayers -- it's an amazing country, where people pray for me. It really is. It's great. Thank you. Go ahead. Do you have a question?"
Nearly everyone in Hudson with a question for the president, it seemed, was praying for him.
"Q Well, first of all, is that I agree with this gentleman. I'm glad that we're all praying for you."
"THE PRESIDENT: Thank you."
But our favorite question of the day, by far, may have thrown some politicians off message -- but Bush took it in stride:
"Q I'm a local youth minister, recently hired. And one of the things -- two of the things we've talked about today are enemies and freedom. And I believe that the enemy that we need the greatest freedom from right now happens to be Satan, and it's the enemy that we also don't necessarily always see. There's so many people who are being attacked on every level. (emphasis added) A lot of those people are youth that are in our middle schools and our high schools. And I was just wondering how we can do more for faith-based initiatives for children, before they're drug addicts?"
"THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I appreciate you saying that."