President Bush did just fine on Meet the Press. Why this is emerging as the contrarian view, I’m not sure; I can only assume that some commentators have high expectations that the president can’t meet, and some won’t be satisfied no matter what he does. But I simply can’t agree with the view that this was a disaster for the President. He showed the requisite seriousness on Iraq, and he was no more evasive than the average Russert guest. If the President is to be judged a failure when he stutters a few times, then he failed at his first press conference. Bush is who he is, and the American public knows it; there aren’t many votes he’ll lose simply by being a little inarticulate.
He also showed that the White House uses the resources of the Internet a lot better than Howard Dean.
Last Tuesday on Hannity & Colmes, Kerry said that he’d “never made any judgments about any choice somebody made about avoiding the draft, about going to Canada, going to jail, being a conscientious objector [or] going into the National Guard.” Bryan Preston of JunkYardBlog pointed out that lumping in Guard service with going to jail as a draft-dodger is quite a smear on the National Guard. Guardsman John Moore wrote on his blog that attacks on Bush’s service record amounted to “slandering my dead comrades, people who died in military aviation serving their country.” Both were linked by Glenn Reynolds, the widely-read Instapundit.
On Friday, the weekly email from Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie to “GOP Team Leaders” included the line, “I expected the Democrats to distort their own records for political expediency, but I didn’t think they would attack President Bush’s military service in the National Guard, and then disparage the National Guard itself.” Of course, the RNC may have come up with that independently, but I have a hunch that some sharp-eyed Republican took note of the grumblings bubbling up from the blogosphere. When Tim Russert asked the President about the dispute over whether Bush went AWOL while serving in the Alabama National Guard, the President made sure to add this:
I would be careful to not denigrate the Guard. It’s fine to go after me, which I expect the other side will do. I wouldn’t denigrate service to the Guard, though, and the reason I wouldn’t, is because there are a lot of really fine people who served in the National Guard and who are serving in the National Guard today in Iraq.
To the President’s mouth, from something called “JunkYardBlog,” in less than a week.
If my hunch is correct, then the GOP is treating the blogosphere as an intellectual resource, much like the think tanks or right-leaning editorial pages and opinion journals (and the affiliated websites, like this one). The blogs are another part of the reservoir from which policy ideas and political arguments can be taken and distilled to serve the campaign. This is wise–far wiser than the Dean approach, where a pool of generally neophyte members of the “netroots” were counted on not only for fundraising which demonstrably worked, making fundraising as much easier as direct mail did a generation ago, but also to turn out the vote, which demonstrably did not work. They instead built a campaign with the trappings of massive support; in the past, 300 people showing up for a candidate in New York would have had to have been the tip of the iceberg. But since meetup.com so dramatically lowers the cost and logistical hassle of getting people together, all the Dean Meetups proved was that they could get an unusually high percentage of supporters to show up for Dean, not that he had an unusually high number of supporters. It amounted to a cargo cult campaign, and the echo chamber it created scared everyone off.
The Bush campaign has its own meetup and Internet fundraising apparatus, even its own blog. But the campaign is in no in danger of letting these newfangled trappings bog it down in the desires of the base — as I wrote last week, Bush has, if anything, the opposite problem from Dean — not enough support in the base. Though the Russert interview reinforced Bush’s commitment to a muscular foreign policy and to tax cuts, his answers on spending indicated that he sees little political liability in his fiscal policy. “Listen to Rush Limbaugh, the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, they’re all saying you are the biggest spender in American history,” Russert noted. Bush didn’t hesitate: “Well, they’re wrong.”
They’re more right than wrong, in fact, but that was a deft lunge toward voters who see Rush Limbaugh as an extremist (and have no idea what Heritage and Cato are). A disaster? No way.
John Tabin is a frequent online contributor to The American Spectator whose website is JohnTabin.com.