Bush speak

Bush in fools hat

You can fool some of the people...

George W Bush gave his prime-time news conference last night, moved up a half-hour as a compromise with the networks who really, really didn't want to disrupt the first night of the May ratings race — a Thursday night no less!! (Washington Post).

Here's the picture the White House chose for the White House web site:

White House photo

They want you to see a smiling, relaxed President Bush against a background of rich reds and golds in the White House carpet. They want you to see a Leader, In Charge, Moving His Agenda Forward.

Here's what I saw:

Bush in fool's hat
Trying to fool all the people all the time

Instead of appearing confident and relaxed, during his opening remarks — read "speech" — Bush was stumbling, hesitant, and mechanical in his delivery. At one point he said he was going to make four points but was so muddled in his delivery that I had to look at the transcript later to get number two.

When it came to questions and answers, the press corps showed a bit more life than normal, boldly following up when they didn't get an answer, even following up on another's question.

There was almost no "news" in this press conference, of course, but there was a crystal-clear example of the kind of deceptive Bush-speak practiced by the White House.

People are nervous — and rightly so — about the idea of replacing a guaranteed Social Security benefit with a stock market investment that carries risk. So last night, Bush offered up the assurance that an option for the privatized ('personal' in Bush-speak) account would be Treasury bonds:

In a reformed Social Security system, voluntary personal retirement accounts would offer workers a number of investment options that are simple and easy to understand. I know some Americans have reservations about investing in the stock market, so I propose that one investment option consist entirely of Treasury bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

The problem with this is that as part of the scare campaign to convince everyone that there is a Social Security crisis Bush has been going around the country telling people that the Social Security trust fund consists of "worthless IOUs." Here's how he put it last night:

Now, it's very important for our fellow citizens to understand there is not a bank account here in Washington, D.C., where we take your payroll taxes and hold it for you and then give it back to you when you retire. Our system here is called pay-as-you-go. You pay into the system through your payroll taxes, and the government spends it. It spends the money on the current retirees, and with the money left over, it funds other government programs. And all that's left behind is file cabinets full of IOUs.

Hello?!?! Those "cabinets full of IOUs" are really Treasury bonds, the same Treasury bonds Bush was extolling a few moments earlier, the ones "backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government." True enough, any bond is an "I owe you" agreement. But Treasury bonds are hardly a promise scratched on a scrap of paper. The government can no more not pay on the bonds held in the Social Security fund than they can not pay on the bonds held by the central banks of Asia. Unless they want to precipitate a catastrophic collapse of the currency and financial system that is.

Sadly, not one of the hotshot reporters assembled in the East Room called Bush on this bit of verbal sleight of hand.

I haven't seen any instant poll results of whether the press conference helped Bush regain his standing with the American voters. I doubt it.

But wait!

THE PRESIDENT: Polls? You know, if a President tries to govern based upon polls, you're kind of like a dog chasing your tail. I don't think you can make good, sound decisions based upon polls. And I don't think the American people want a President who relies upon polls and focus groups to make decisions for the American people.

And if you believe W doesn't care about polls, I've got some land near Palmdale I'd love to sell you! It's a great investment!