August 10, 2004


Bush's 'talk show' always has appreciative audience (Richard Benedetto, 8/10/04, USA TODAY)

When President Bush picks up a microphone, bounds onto a stage and engages his cheering audience in a rambling discussion of topics from Iraq to the economy, it comes off as relaxed, informal and largely spontaneous.

"I feel like a talk show host," Bush often says as he roams the platform in the center of the arena.

But these "Ask President Bush" campaign forums, the eighth of which was held at Northern Virginia Community College here Monday, leave little to chance.

The national Bush campaign staff works through a local Republican office to assemble an audience of 1,000 to 2,500 people, depending on the site. The party offers registered party volunteers two tickets — and says more are available if volunteers want to bring open-minded friends.

Depending on the message Bush wants to put across, the local office also lines up some carefully chosen locals to take the stage with him and explain how Bush's policies are helping them afford college, buy a home, save money on health insurance or expand a business. They are given "talking points" ahead of time.

The people chosen to tell their stories sometimes have to be prodded to hit the right notes. The president takes it all in good humor.

On Monday, he turned to Sharon Rainey and coached her to begin. "Sharon started her own business. True or false?" Bush asked. "True," she answered.

"I'm not even a lawyer, and here I am leading the witness," Bush said, chuckling. Rainey then told how Bush's tax breaks allowed her to expand her business.

C-SPAN showed yesterday's and it was terrific. The next couple months will demonstrate the genius of Bush/Rove's understanding that a president's presence is a form of political capital, only to be spent when needed, not squandered on trivialities. It will be precisely because the President isn't always in our faces that he'll get a listen now that he's asking for one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 10, 2004 1:41 PM

You mean a listen?

[Yes, I did--thanks--oj]

Posted by: pj at August 10, 2004 4:00 PM

One of the many low points of the Clinton presidency was when he had to be in the stadium for the game in which Cal Ripken Jr. set the consecutive games played record. It was refreshing during spring and summer 2001 to be able to go days without hearing or seeing Bush when you tuned in for the top of the hour headlines.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at August 10, 2004 5:05 PM

I like that "I'm not a lawyer" line. Call it professional tunnel vision.

We haven't had a decent lawyer-president since Coolidge. The last four (Nixon, Ford and the two Clintons) have ranged from mediocre to disastrous, and don't let's get started about FDR. The Democrats are now offering us two lawyers from the Trial Lawyer Party. One of them (like most who abandon law for politics at a young age) is manifestly incompetent at law. The other is the type of scum-sucking bottom-dwelling parasite that makes me reach for my pitchfork, if not for my dynamite.

Posted by: Random Lawyer at August 10, 2004 5:34 PM