Bush Sucks Up to Media

In the days leading up to his second inaugural, President Bush is performing a chore that he often seems to enjoy about as much as a trip to the dentist – talking to the news media.

After a first term that produced fewer news conferences than any of his modern predecessors, Bush suddenly has emerged as a Chatty Cathy, making time for all the major television networks and a handful of newspapers to outline his vision for the coming four years.

He has discussed Iraq – telling ABC’s Barbara Walters, for instance, that he “absolutely” would have gone to war even if it had been determined that Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction – and used every opportunity to tout his proposed reform of Social Security.

But it hasn’t all gone smoothly.

Presidential aides moved quickly to gloss over problems with evangelical groups after Bush indicated to The Washington Post that he wouldn’t expend political capital to press for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Now the White House is trying to assure the vital conservative Christian constituency while simultaneously tamping down expectations that the proposal might pass Congress.

From the beginning, the Bush White House has sought to marginalize the press, often taking its message directly and unfiltered to the public, especially regarding the war against terrorism and in Iraq.

But the aggressive agenda he set for the second term _ Social Security, tax and tort reform are all on the list _ might prove more reachable without a hostile press.

Scott McClellan, the president’s press secretary, said Bush was able to achieve “many big things” during his first four years in office, noting that “we certainly came together to move forward in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, to take significant steps to win the war on terrorism and protect the homeland.”

“This is a week when the president will talk about the importance of coming together to work together to achieve big things,” McClellan said Tuesday. “This president believes in solving problems, not passing them on to future generations. He’s made that very clear. And there are a number of challenges we face and we need to address those challenges now, not pass them on to future generations and let them get worse. We have an obligation to lead. And at the same time, we have an obligation to work together to try to achieve big things.”

(E-mail Bill Straub at StraubB(at)shns.com)