WASHINGTON, June 15
Perhaps the tensile dexterity of the fingers of our Googling monkeys has given way, but the President's trip to Pennsylvania yesterday and his fiery speech last night don't seem to have received quite the level of coverage that they might have.
The most supreme informal power of the presidency -- the bully pulpit gambit -- works only when the commander in chief successfully bypasses the filter -- or dominates it.
The Bush Administration has been expert at using (sometimes) peripheral media to extend the reach of the presidential megaphone beyond the MSM and outside the conventional three-network-newscast narrative that still exerts much influence on those factors that limit the office's hard powers.
In the 2004 campaign, it worked SO well in part because the message (whatever it was) could often be eclipsed by the personal connection folks had with the man himself.
But don't make too much of the alternative world when thinking about Bush v. Kerry, because Bush won the network/MSM wars more often than not too.
Sophists that we are, we can argue the "Bush half full" argument as well as the "Bush half empty" one in assessing the current state of play.
However, it is clear that on the interconnected issues of moving some Social Security legislation, pushing up the key/right presidential poll numbers, and getting the Gang of 500 (including Republican members) to snap out of their "he's a lame duck" mindset, that the White House could use more MSM real estate and more positive coverage therein, locally and nationally.
And/but that brings us to today's Rosetta Stone text, from the quill pen of Harvard scholar and AP writer Ron Fournier, which suggests some possible reasons for all this:
"The Bush campaign succeeded in its 2004 strategy -- to make the election a referendum on Kerry and not the incumbent. Now, every day is a referendum on Bush." LINK
The man can write these sentences with authority:
"One reason is that voters are no longer judging him in comparison to Kerry. Bush, like other second-term presidents, is facing the prospect of lame-duck status. He's up against his own record, in a sense, and that's never an easy task."
His story includes on-the-record quotes from Rep. Tom Cole, Ken Khachigian, Charlie Black, and Joe Gaylord.
Fournier nicely balances optimism and pessimism in his final four paragraphs: "Khachigian said Bush is being worn down by stiff Democratic opposition and by his bullish agenda. 'In a campaign, you're less likely to put up provocative ideas, you use much more global messaging and fewer specifics,' he said. 'What he's paying the price for now is being specific and provocative, especially on Social Security.'"
"Cole compared Bush to President Truman, who never shied from a tough issue and often paid a political price. 'He was pretty farseeing. What you liked about Truman is what in the short term makes it politically challenging, and I'd say the same thing about Bush,' Cole said. 'He likes to make tough decisions.'"
"Cole's analogy may not be comforting to Republicans. For all his tough stands and history's opinion, Truman left office with low poll ratings after the 1952 elections. And his Democrats lost control of Congress."
And/but/to/be/sure, Mr. Bush's remarks at last night's Presidential Dinner would have, in other circumstances, drawn bigger and "better" coverage.
Simply put: He Fought Back.