Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Reports that President Bush may drop out of the debate at Washington University has not slowed down preparations reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The campaign cited concerns that the debate, which is supposed to be a town-hall format, will have partisans posing as independents. There have also been comments from the campaign that there only needs to be two debates, one on foreign policy and one on domestic policy.

While the move may seem surprising, it fits into the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign style very nicely. The campaign has tightly controlled the audiences at appearances by the President and Vice-President, often limiting them to invitation only events and on occasion removing people who they believe may cause problems. The secondary reasons, that they want two focused debates may be valid, but avoiding tough questions seems to fit into the Bush campaign M.O. much better.

Potential voters in Missouri, an important battleground state in the upcoming election, should take note of the fact that not only is the President skipping Missouri, but it fits into a pattern for this campaign and this Presidency. They have avoided press conferences when possible and often on the campaign trail they have skipped the one-on-one meetings with random voters for speeches and carefully choreographed Q and A sessions.

All of these point to a President who is incapable or unwilling to answer questions which he may not be able to answer in advance. Certainly there have been people who have great understanding of issues who are simply bad on the fly. Yet as several people have pointed out recently, Bush's response to moderately difficult policy questions seems to indicate a lack of understanding, not simply an inability to articulate tough answers on the fly. A recent example would be his assertion that the war on terrorism can't be won (a reasonable and factual statement) followed by a retraction and a couple clarifications.

It's not that a person shouldn't be allowed to misspeak or make mistakes, its that this is part of a continuous trend in which the message is more important than the policy. Politicians have always been criticized for just this type of activity, but the Bush administration has raised it to a new art form. Either a rotating policy is used to back a message (as in the tax cuts), or a rotating message is used to back a policy (as in Iraq).

The President should stick with the second debate at Washington University and handle the questions like every other President has done. If the public is not allowed to question their elected representatives, especially the President, than aren't we losing some basic aspect of democracy? And if the President is unwilling to handle the public's questions, what does that say about the President?

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