Tuesday, August 31, 2004

RUSH SAVES BUSH FROM TRUTH. George W. Bush told the truth on Saturday. But don't worry. He's not going to let it happen again. He made sure of that earlier this afternoon in a characteristically fawning interview conducted by Rush Limbaugh.

As you may recall, the president was asked by Matt Lauer, in an interview for NBC's Today show, whether the US could win the war on terrorism. (The interview was broadcast yesterday.) Bush replied: "I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world - let's put it that way."

It was a good, honest answer. Unfortunately, it was also at odds with the triumphalism of his past remarks. As Elisabeth Bumiller reported in today's New York Times, Bush said as recently as July 14, "I have a clear vision and a strategy to win the war on terror." Bumiller went on to write, "It was unclear if Mr. Bush had meant to make the remark to Mr. Lauer, or if he misspoke." Misspoke? Re-read what he said. Rarely has he been so honest and coherent.

Of course, Bush's candor was immediately labeled a mistake. It would have been nice if John Kerry or John Edwards had jokingly welcomed Bush to the real world. But no. Edwards made a stiff statement insisting, "This is no time to declare defeat. It won't be easy and it won't be quick, but we have a comprehensive plan to make America safer." (Note that Edwards didn't say that Bush was wrong.) Even Bush's sycophants on the Fox News Channel said Bush had stepped in it, though they tried to explain it away.

So today ... El Rushbo to the rescue! "Well, I appreciate you bringing that up," Bush - calling in from Des Moines, where he was campaigning - told Limbaugh, adding that he should have been "more clear." Bush explained: "What I meant was that this is not a conventional war. It is a different kind of war. We're fighting people who have got a dark ideology who use terrorists, terrorism, as a tool." And: "In a conventional war there would be a peace treaty or there would be a moment where somebody would sit on the side and say, 'We quit.' That's not the kind of war we're in, and that's what I was saying."

After talking a bit about his confidence that Iraq and Afghanistan will become "free nations," Bush said, "I probably needed to be a little more articulate," then followed up with this: "I know we'll win it, but we have to be resolved and firm, and we can't doubt what we stand for."

Still more: "We're making great progress. Today at the [American] Legion I said we're winning the war on terror, and we'll win the war on terror. There's no doubt in my mind."

Look, optimism has its place. But terrorism is clearly a problem to be contained and controlled. To say that it will be defeated entirely is unrealistic to the point of foolishness. Just ask the Israelis and the British. Bush could have followed up his remarks to Lauer by expanding on them in order to educate the public. Instead, he went right back to pandering. No surprise there.

Bush and Limbaugh went back and forth for about 20 minutes, justifying the war in Iraq, engaging in a some light Kerry-bashing, and previewing his Thursday-night convention speech, although only a bit. "I'm going to save some of it for the speech if you don't mind," Bush said. "You're a good friend, and I hate to let you down." Replied the groveling Rush: "I understand, I understand completely."

As they were closing, Bush asked the longtime OxyContin abuser, "How you feeling?" Limbaugh replied, "I've never been happier," no doubt grateful every day that he never received the sort of "justice" that the Bush family is famous for dishing out to drug abusers, and that Limbaugh himself has supported in the past. Limbaugh also told Bush that people are "praying" for him.

"That's the most important thing people can do, is pray. And I appreciate that," Bush said.

"I can't speak for everybody," Limbaugh said in closing, "but I can speak for quite a few. They love you out there, Mr. President, and they only wish you the best."

Gee, how come Matt Lauer didn't speak to Bush that way?

No sooner had Bush gotten off the phone than Limbaugh got weird. "I want to make a prediction. I hope I'm wrong, but I want to make a prediction," he said, noting that he expected mainstream news organizations would cover the interview. "I wouldn't be surprised - I would not be surprised if somewhere early on in their stories ... don't be surprised if they find a way to work in the Abu Ghraib prison stuff."

Huh? Well, there's no arguing with Rush. After all, as he said of the mainstream media, "I know these people like every square inch of my glorious naked body." Got that?

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