Friday, April 29, 2005

GOOD BUSH, BAD BUSH. There were positives and negatives in President Bush's two main pronouncements at last night's news conference. Unfortunately, the pattern with Bush is for the positives to be strictly rhetorical, while the negatives actually get enacted as policy.

Bush's hour-long encounter with the press wasn't particularly newsworthy, so let me dispense with it in three observations:

1. He said the right thing about religion. Following last Sunday's Jesus-drenched satellite-television special on Bush's hard-right judicial nominees, the president was asked by NBC's David Gregory whether he agreed with the proposition that his choices were being filibustered because of their religious views. Bush's answer:

I think people are opposing my nominees because they don't like the judicial philosophy of the people I've nominated. Some would like to see judges legislate from the bench. That's not my view of the proper role of a judge....

The great thing about America, David, is that you should be allowed to worship any way you want, and if you choose not to worship, you're equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship. And if you choose to worship, you're equally American if you're a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim. That's the wonderful thing about our country, and that's the way it should be.

Bush's statement that secular people are "equally as patriotic" as those who are religious was significant, and it's not something he always remembers to say. Too often, Bush has allowed his presidency to be depicted as a right-wing religious crusade, which pumps up his base, but which has had the effect of intensifying the opposition as well.

Saying the right thing is important, because it sets a tone. Still, I'm not too impressed with the bone the president threw last night. That's because his answer, really, was an exercise in having it both ways - in letting the religious right do his dirty work for him, while he himself ever-so-slightly disagrees. As CNN's Jeff Greenfield put it last night, "he is once again the beneficiary of a base without tying himself to that base on this particular matter."

2. His statements on Social Security were a step forward. I'm not going to get carried away. Josh Marshall today is right to mock the "media swoon" with which Bush was greeted. But though Bush's embrace of "progressive indexing" is not new, his mentioning it in such a public forum shows that he's actually ready to do something he's never done with his tax cuts: help poor people by penalizing the wealthy.

That said, the full Robert Pozen plan that Bush seemed to endorse ought to be dead on arrival. Under it, your benefits will be cut if your "average career earnings" were $25,000 a year or more. That's absolutely ridiculous, and never mind that those earning up to $113,000 will be penalized even more.

Still, the notion that benefits should be judiciously cut without hurting those who most need is something that ought to be seriously considered. The late Paul Tsongas was talking about this back when he was a senator in the 1970s and '80s. Cutting benefits for the truly wealthy, as well as gradually raising the retirement age to 70, might not be a bad idea. (If anything, the modern equivalent of 65, the retirement age set in the 1930s, would be 75.)

Fortunately, the private retirement accounts Bush still wants to set up appear to be a political non-starter, and I'm not going to waste space on them except to say we should all have private retirement accounts, and that they're called IRAs and 401(k)s.

3. Give him an out and he'll duck the question. Not that that makes Bush unusual. By my tally, the worst question of the night was this one:

Mr. President, you've made No Child Left Behind a big part of your education agenda. The nation's largest teachers union has filed suit against it, saying it's woefully inadequately funded. What's your response to that? And do you think that No Child Left Behind is working?

The transcript doesn't indicate who asked this question, and I didn't recognize the reporter (Bush addressed him as "Richard"), but the flaw here is in the last sentence. Bush was directly asked about the lawsuit by the National Education Association and the accusation that NCLF has not been properly funded. But Richard couldn't leave well enough alone, closing with a general question that allowed Bush to puff NCLB and run out the clock. Bush:

Yes, I think it's working. And the reason why I think it's working is because we're measuring, and the measurement is showing progress toward teaching people how to read and write and add and subtract. Listen, the whole theory behind No Child Left Behind is this: if we're going to spend federal money, we expect the states to show us whether or not we're achieving simple objectives - like literacy, literacy in math, the ability to read and write. And, yes, we're making progress. And I can say that with certainty because we're measuring, Richard.

Etc., etc., etc.

Finally, after several minutes of this, the hapless Richard, no doubt having instantly realized that he'd fallen into a trap, interjected, "What about the lawsuit?" Bush claimed he didn't know about it. But by that point, Bush already appeared to have answered the NCLB question, and the moment was lost.

MORE ON THE NETWORKS. Jacques Steinberg, in today's New York Times, explains what was up with NBC and CBS last night. Frankly, I'd have more respect for them if they'd simply refused to carry the news conference. Cutting away with a few minutes to go was a no-class act.

OUR FRIENDS THE IRAQIS. I'm a day late with this, but if you missed it, you've got to read Thanassis Cambanis's account in yesterday's Boston Globe of Iraqi political figure Mithal al-Alusi. Alusi is a pro-Western secularist who would like to see better relations with Israel, and who has visited the Jewish state.

Alusi's reward: his two sons were killed in an assassination attempt aimed at him, he's been charged with treason for his trip to Israel, and he's been shunned by virtually the entire Iraqi political establishment.

This is what more than 1500 American troops have died for?


Steve said...

I think you mis-stated - Bush is not proposing to cut SS benefits for the wealthy - his cuts apparently go deep into the middle-class.

If he's going to use that logic, why not raise the ceiling on earnings taxed by Social Security?

Anonymous said...

I may be mistaken but I think Bush ended the press conference by thanking the gathering "for their answers."
I found the hour, well, humiliating. W clearly doesn't want to be there, and it's painful to listen to. I say lets end the pretense and call off any more [3-4 maybe?] of these things until '08.
Two Q's I would have asked:It's been 3+ years. Why hasn't ben Laden's head been seen parading down a Saudi street, on the end of a pike?
Has any member of the Bush extended family enlisted, since the start of the Afgan/Iraq wars?

Anonymous said...

Dan Kennedy on Bush "He Said the Right Thing About Religion." Is it just me or has Dan Kennedy crossed some line of self absorption that defies description? As if whatever Dan says or his description of some event is the only possible truth to be cast out into the world. One can see fireballs and beams of light shooting from his fingers as he writes this self righteous, elitist drivel. Dan! Get a grip.

Anonymous said...

LOL! Perfect.

Anonymous said...

Would that it were DK in particular rather than idealogues in general, (both sides of the aisle)...

Dan Kennedy said...

Hmm ... I was under the impression that people came here because they were entertained by my opinions, whether they agree with them or not.

Now that I've been told otherwise, I guess I'm going to have to reorient Media Log to stock tips and lawn care. Stay tuned!

Anonymous said...

DK, didn't mean to hurt your widdle feewings.Your opinions are always honest, well-thought out and candid. Provocative, (deliberately so, I'm sure). Northeastern is getting their money's worth. Just remember that others are as opinionated as you.

Anonymous said...

In the interest of conserving bandwidth, is there any way to post Anthony's stuff in 4 pt. type?

Anonymous said...

Dan, You've been hitting your stride with this blog thing lately. It's a given MUST that you have to continue it when you're Professor Dan. I assume Northeastern doesn't restrict you contractually to what and where and when you can publish opinion pieces?

I just have a sense that this blog is ready to take off nationally even more than it has. For product identification, keep the media slant, though. (Which does tend to get a teeny bit lost sometimes.)

A Loyal Fan