Dubya’s Swagger Goes AWOL

It’s a sign of how much political trouble President Bush is in that he was willing to hold a press conference, his first since May. Bush is sparing with press conferences — the fewest of any modern president _ and tends to hold them only when he has to.

Tuesday’s nearly-hourlong session in the Rose Garden had a twofold purpose: Launching the campaign to win Senate confirmation for Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers; and trying to reverse the political momentum that has been going against him — as is said in Washington, “to regain his swagger.”

Rather than swagger, Bush at times seemed listless and tentative, not his usual buoyant self.

The defense of Miers, his White House counsel and onetime personal attorney, was unusual in that it was aimed, not at the usual and this time not very noisy Democratic partisans, but at his own Republican social conservatives, many of whom have found the appointment deeply unsettling. Even as he was speaking, conservative commentator George Will was dashing off a fiery column urging her defeat. “The president’s ‘argument’ for her amounts to: Trust me.” There is no reason to, Will concluded.

The problem _ and it shouldn’t be insurmountable _ is that Miers has no judicial experience. The president insisted that this was a positive, but argued it in a curious way, extolling the benefits of inflexible views and on-the-job training.

“Twenty years from now,” he said _ indicating he expects Miers, 60, to stay on the high court into her 80s _ “she will be the same person with the same judicial philosophy she has today. She’ll have more experience. She’ll have been a judge …”

Bush said he was confident of her conservative views and judicial philosophy, although later he conceded that he had never had a substantive discussion with his longtime associate about such matters as abortion.

And, not that anybody has suggested that the demeanor of the current justices is anything less than sober, Bush argued for her on the grounds that “Harriet Miers will bring dignity to the bench.”

Although this was not one of his better press conferences — only the subject of avian flu seemed to get him really fired up — when the president does them he does them well. He should do them more often. As he battles mounting political reversals, he may have to.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)