Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Bush On The Campaign Trail

Dan Froomkin reports on the campaign style of the most managed President in history:
Instead of taking questions from reporters, President Bush has become increasingly partial to playing talk-show host to an audience of sycophantic fans.

There were four "Ask President Bush" events last week and in each case, after a long speech and staged interviews with prepped guests, Bush opened the floor to some incredible softballs.

The format allows the president to come off as very smooth.
...which, of course, is quite the accomplishment. But, as Froomkin makes clear, the audience "questions" go well beyond softball level to outright character assassination of John Kerry - without the Bush campaign having to get their own fingers dirty:
"Q On behalf of Vietnam veterans -- and I served six tours over there -- we do support the President. I only have one concern, and that's on the Purple Heart, and that is, is that there are over 200,000 Vietnam vets that died from Agent Orange and were never -- no Purple Heart has ever been awarded to a Vietnam veteran because of Agent Orange because it's never been changed in the regulations. Yet, we've got a candidate for President out here with two self-inflicted scratches, and I take that as an insult. (Applause.)

"THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate that. Thank you. Thank you for your service. Six tours? Whew. That's a lot of tours.

"Let's see, who've we got here? You got a question?"
Froomkin's thesis is that the press corps is getting tired of this kind of theater, but I'm less optimistic. Fox News will always have an endless appetite for pro-Bush quasi-news clips, and in the echo chamber of right-wing punditry, admiration of Bush's natural touch with the voters - and voters' overwhelming distaste for Kerry - will flourish undisturbed. Even in the mainstream news, the propaganda events seem to be working well enough. Froomkin himself links to this Valentine of a Washington Post article by John F. Harris, which speaks admiringly about Bush's smooth speaking style and demeanor:
In loosening his style, Bush tightened his message. Fielding friendly questions at "Ask President Bush" forums, or lathering up the crowds at pep rallies like the one here on Saturday afternoon, he presented his case for reelection with a force and fluency that sometimes eluded him at important moments over the past year.
Harris also writes that, despite polling data suggesting that the Bush campaign is embattled, in fact he is "drawing appreciative crowds" - without bothering to mention just why the crowds attending Bush rallies are so uniformly enthusiastic. Even the Froomkin piece notes that Bush events have been successful in eliminating "hecklers," instead of making it clear that Bush events have barred everyone but true believers.