President Bush’s prime-time press conference = only the fourth of his presidency – was a made-for-TV event.
The White House was so anxious to have it on all four major networks that it was willing at the last minute to move up the press conference a half hour. (Even so, two networks cut away with two questions left to go.)
The president reciprocated the favor. His list of reporters to call on heavily favored television. (And for whatever reason, as a woman White House reporter of our acquaintance tersely pointed out, he called on only one woman, a TV reporter.) Clearly, Bush aides had a target audience in mind.
In a White House that doesn’t like to admit error, the press conference was a tacit acknowledgement that things have been going wrong. Bush’s agenda for the moment is stalled, his approval ratings are scarily low and the administration seems to have been blindsided by gasoline prices.
Not only did he fail to sell the American public on private Social Security accounts on his 60-cities-in-60-days tour, support for his plan actually fell. In his press conference, he began shifting the focus of the Social Security debate from private accounts to long-term solvency.
Bush is prone to saying that, on the one hand, he is open to all ideas, and then, on the other, laying down parameters _ e.g., personal accounts and no tax increases on Social Security _ that preclude most of them. But Thursday night he said publicly for the first time that he was willing to consider means-testing Social Security benefits _ using different indices for calculating the benefits for different income groups.
In an indication that the White House thinks Republicans may have gone too far in energizing some of their fundamentalist Christian base, the president repudiated the accusation that Democrats opposed to his judicial nominees are against “people of faith.”
“I think people are opposing my nominees because they don’t like the judicial philosophy of the people I’ve nominated,” Bush said.
He also said, in an observation surely not shared by many of his supporters, “If you chose not to worship, you’re equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship.”
Throughout, Bush was upbeat, good-humored and confident. In all, it was a bold and laudable attempt at breaking the second-term hex on the presidency.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)