President Bush said this morning that a full schedule had, alas, so far
prevented him from following any of the Congressional debate on the
troop escalation in Iraq.
"In terms of watching the debate, I've got a lot to do," he told
C-SPAN. "I've had meetings up until now."
After being apprised that the debate had not actually started yet -- and
wouldn't until Tuesday, after yet another delay -- he laughed and said,
"I've got a lot to do tomorrow," too, as luck would have it.
Anyway, he had a pretty good idea of what he would hear if he did
listen, he said, and laughed again, as he did throughout what would have
otherwise not seemed a particularly jolly interview.
Yet he also seemed to have an old-fashioned case of ants in his pants,
and at one point jumped in to mock a question before understanding what
he was being asked.
When the interviewer made a reference to "Goldwater Republicans," and
"Rockefeller Republicans," he chuckled -- his word -- and stopped the
questioner from finishing his thought.
"I'm just chuckling because I think 'Goldwater Republicans' and
'Rockefeller Republicans' are pretty far past," the president said.
"That's rude of me to chuckle, but I would be cautious about
Okay, his interviewer said mildly, but what he'd really wanted to know
was how (George W.) Bush Republicans would be defined, and what images
the phrase "Bush Republican" might summon for future generations.
And suddenly, it was 2000 again; Mr. Bush did not mention 9/11 or the
global war on terror, Iraq or Afghanistan, Saddam or bin Laden:
"Compassionate conservatism" was his legacy, he declared, and referred
to the faith-based initiatives we haven't heard much about in subsequent
years. "I made a name by being compassionate."
(To learn more about this cornerstone of the Bush years, I referred to
the White House website, where I learned that key accomplishments in
this area in 2006 include a pilot program that houses 141 homeless
veterans in Chicago. Additionally, North Dakota became the first state
to fully implement an extended web-based service referral system, and
centers for faith-based and community initiatives hosted 110
grant-writing workshops around the country.)
What was it like to be watching the kickoff of the '08 presidential
campaign from the sidelines? "From my perspective, it's good not to have
a vice president running," the president said.
"The tendency, in the tense moments to feel they have to distance
themselves from the White House" could lead to "instability."
Certainly, his own position on Iraq could not be described as having
evolved at all: "If we fail, it's more likely they'll come here and want
to kill Americans," he argued, as he has since before the war began.
Again, too, he asserted that there's plenty of good news in Iraq, even
now: "Most of the country is in good shape."
Asked outright if he had changed at all in the last six years, he said
no: "You'd better ask Laura, but I feel like the same fellow who came up
from, uh, Texas. I don't feel changed."
Through most of the 25-minute interview, he kept his hands clasped at
chest level, as if in prayer, and in closing, did allow that he was
worried as never before about his father, who he said was one of the
most underrated presidents in American history.
"I'm more concerned about him than I've ever been in my life," he said,
"because he's been paying too much attention to the news" -- perhaps
even planning to tune in to the Congressional debate over his son's war.