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April 04, 2007

The Theater

More oddly direct truth-telling from The Washington Post's Dana Milbank:

Bush's perplexity may have resulted from the questioners' failure to cooperate with his chosen theme: scolding Democrats for the "political theater" -- as Bush and Vice President Cheney have put it in recent days -- of attempting to end the war in Iraq. "There's been a political dance going on here in Washington," Bush repeated yesterday.

To provide this criticism of Democrats' political theater, the White House staged its usual elaborate production. The Rose Garden was strung with thick cables and dotted with amplifiers, klieg lights and risers for the television cameras. A braided rope and brass posts kept reporters 20 feet from the president. The White House allowed only one network to videotape the event.[...]

At first, Bush's only uncertainty was how to describe his opponents. He referred to the "Democrat leaders" and the "Democrat leadership" before correcting himself to say "Democratic leadership."

Meanwhile, I really do find these gotchas annoying:

"Mr. President, are you aware of the current price of a gallon of gas?"

"About $2.60-plus," Bush answered, just shy of the Energy Department's $2.71 national average.

Herman sensed a good deal. "Where are you shopping, sir?" he inquired.

Presidents don't buy their own gas, purchase their own milk, do a whole lot of shopping, or generally live lives much like yours or mine. This is a positive thing for a variety of reasons, among them the simple fact that trying to back a motorcade into a Shell station or use the Secret Service to secure a Safeway is rather inconvenient for the rest of the world. Bush has plenty of bad economic and energy policies, and reporters should merrily crucify him for the failings. But a precise recall of daily commodity prices just isn't part of the job description.

Update: In comments, Jeff writes:

I hate Bush, but missing the current price of a gallon of gas by 10 to 15 cents does not make you out of touch. Being the rich son of a rich family and having the White House handed to you as a family keepsake makes you out of touch. But anyone who has not filled up their tank in the last week can miss gas prices by that much-- they go up and down rather quickly, after all.

April 4, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Speaking of political theater: Cheney in the Bushes during the Prez's press conf/mock outrage outburst.

Maybe Cheney was getting ready to hunt some (Dan) Quail and shoot someone in the face (or possibly, he's a wallflower waiting to be asked to waltz in the political dance going on in Washington).

Real people want to know why the Veep is hiding in the bushes (or is that the balcony of the Rose Garden?), and why the Prez is wearing Jack Abramhoff's coat with some other dude's boots and hat (and, as always for Bush, without the horse).

Does the President enjoy speaking to an empty lawn, or will no one come to his pressers anymore since repetitive lies are oh so boring?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 4, 2007 11:09:55 AM

Ugh, those are the exact kind of gotchas constantly leveled at Democrats to show that they are elitist. Just thinking about the news cycle that would follow if John Kerry had said that makes me shiver.

Posted by: Sam L. | Apr 4, 2007 11:26:32 AM

Sure, it's not part of the job description... but I think it's about the perception of not being in touch with every day lives, something that the Bush Administration has shown themselves to be spectacularly deaf about, and ought to be hoist up on at every opportunity. Gas prices aren't my everyday issue either. Doesn't mean someone in this Administration shouldn't be on top of it. Ad the fact is this Administration's choice of priorities reamins wildly out of step with a large swath of the general public - whatever issue you would like to substitute. At that point, it seems to me anything these useless people do is fair game.

Posted by: weboy | Apr 4, 2007 11:36:51 AM

W had those prices earpiece'd in. Du-fucking-uhh!

Posted by: Jim | Apr 4, 2007 12:02:35 PM

Sure, it's not part of the job description... but I think it's about the perception of not being in touch with every day lives

I live in the city and take public transportation to work. In the winter, I drive maybe once or twice a week to the grocery store, or running other errands (I drive a lot more in the summer because I play a ton of golf). I fill up maybe once every month or two. I couldn't tell you what the price of gas is at any given time (I'm guessing in the $2.90/$3.00 range in near north Chicago). And on top of that, the price of gas in one of my local stations is probably a good fifty cents higher than it is in the suburbs.

Now, on the other hand, Bush the elder not realizing that the technology to scan bar codes existed, that's a better sign that someone is out of touch than not knowing the price of gas.

Posted by: Seitz | Apr 4, 2007 12:07:50 PM

I hate Bush, but missing the current price of a gallon of gas by 10 to 15 cents does not make you out of touch. Being the rich son of a rich family and having the White House handed to you as a family keepsake makes you out of touch. But anyone who has not filled up their tank in the last week can miss gas prices by that much-- they go up and down rather quickly, after all.

Posted by: Jeff in Texas | Apr 4, 2007 12:11:02 PM

Milbank conflates importantly different kinds of political theater. The trappings of officialdom are theater, and are supposed to be, but the legislative process is supposed to be something more substantial. The reason the current legislation is rightly regarded as political theater is that everyone knows it won't become law.

It's a poll-driven political game, at the expense of some important things, such as truth and soldier morale. That Bush has been disconnected from reality for so long is no excuse for us to do the same.

Posted by: Sanpete | Apr 4, 2007 12:41:13 PM

I dont know Sanpete, I think there is something valuable in placing elected leaders on the record. If they didn't do this, Republicans could honestly claim in 2008 that democratcs were unwilling to end the war and it would be flip-flop all over again. There is nothing shameful in beginning with a strong negotiating position, or exercising as much of your authority as you can in order to demonstrate that you need more of it. By your logic, congresspeople wouldn't vote unless their vote could decide the passage or non-passage of a bill.

You cite soldier morale as a reason not to pass a bill to end the war knowing it will be vetoed. Symbolic politics have consequences, but that scenario seems a little far-fetched. The soldiers know that the American people dont support the war anymore, and their morale is much more likely to be affected by the conditions on the ground. Nor do I think there is really anything the troops would be more likely to accomplish with better morale. You and I agree that there should be no withdrawal. But basically, the only really achievable goal for US troops is to stay is to function as a placeholder to prevent sectarian capture of the state and state-sponsored genocide in ethnically mixed cities.

A more likely "signal" argument is that a sign that of increased political pressure inside the US for withdrawal will increase the pressure for sectrarian compromise and reconciliation. Frankly, I think this is hopeless, but it is worth a bluff to see what happens.

Posted by: RW | Apr 4, 2007 1:14:21 PM

I paid $2.59 yesterday for brandname regular in Dallas.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 4, 2007 1:44:31 PM

By your logic, congresspeople wouldn't vote unless their vote could decide the passage or non-passage of a bill.

Not at all. We should know where our representatives stand, but there are cases where it's just poll-driven posturing, at the price of better things. It does matter that the Congress that authorizes the mission the soldiers are on officially renounces that mission. That's not the same as polling showing that half-aware people eating their morning cereal disagree with the war, and it isn't perceived the same way. It's a formal, considered declaration by the people's representatives. Morale does matter to soldiers, independently of how it affects their effectiveness. And it certainly doesn't improve effectiveness to have soldiers wondering why they should be there when the Congress thinks it's a waste of human lives. What real good is being achieved by these bills in trade for this?

The Administration is using the bad cop/good cop routine with Iraqis as a result of congressional votes, but that could be accomplished in better ways. I think the way the Democratic leadership is misleading the public about what's realistic is likely to be more damaging in the long run than any gain from it.

I think there's a political danger here too, that the Democrats may not see very well. Pelosi is acting as though she's the new co-Commander in Chief. Too much of that may well backfire. And if we withdraw from Iraq and then it blows up, Americans are going to feel very differently about what they were told.

Posted by: Sanpete | Apr 4, 2007 1:52:52 PM

I agree that the gotchas are stupid, but there is an important meta-message here, that Bush doesn't understand or care about the problems of ordinary Americans (and there's lots of other evidence that this is true). His father ran into the exact same problem when he didn't recognize a grocery scanner. Again, Presidents don't buy groceries, but the public responded anyway, because the episode helped crystallize the perception that Bush I was a rich twit who had no clue how the other half lived. The same principle is operating here, and the Dems should use it. I'm afraid your rant bespeaks the usual progressive overestimation of the public's interest in policy. Most of the public really doesn't respond much to policy criticism, but these kinds of heuristics do influence them, even if us wonks think they're silly.

Posted by: beckya57 | Apr 4, 2007 2:07:04 PM

Becky, does truth and validity of argument matter?

Posted by: Sanpete | Apr 4, 2007 3:03:37 PM

No Sanpete, it really doesn't - this is part where perception is as important if not more important than reality. The "out of touch" charge wouldn't stick as much - and, indeed, the "why should the President know about buying gas" line would help - if so many other factors didn't help to create an impression that this question only underlines. The fact that perception plays such a lrage role may not be a fact we like (I never have), but it's still a big part of how we see things here in the US. Were Bush more attentive to other concerns of the American populace, no one would give a rat's ass what he knew about gas prices at the local Shell station; but he's not and they do. If the White House wants that perception to change, they certainly have their work cut out for them (cf Ezra's previous post about the press having turned, which is part of the lesson here).

Posted by: weboy | Apr 4, 2007 5:50:02 PM

Weboy, I see my question was ambiguous. What I'm concerned about is whether we have some obligation to be intellectually honest.

Posted by: Sanpete | Apr 4, 2007 10:40:16 PM

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Posted by: judy | Sep 28, 2007 5:45:02 AM

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