A View From The Handbasket

Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Q&A, without the A
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:01 AM

In a clear sign that the White House is concerned about the President's dropping poll numbers, the President faced unscreened questions from citizens yesterday, in all likelihood for the first time since the 2004 election. Let's watch.

Q Thank you for coming to Cleveland, Mr. President, and to the City Club. My question is that author and former Nixon administration official Kevin Phillips, in his latest book, American Theocracy, discusses what has been called radical Christianity and its growing involvement into government and politics. He makes the point that members of your administration have reached out to prophetic Christians who see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the apocalypse. Do you believe this, that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of the apocalypse? And if not, why not?

THE PRESIDENT: The answer is -- I haven't really thought of it that way. (Laughter.) Here's how I think of it. The first I've heard of that, by the way. I guess I'm more of a practical fellow. I vowed after September the 11th, that I would do everything I could to protect the American people.

Well, *there's* a topic he clearly doesn't want to discuss. The administration's eager to embrace the kooky fringe to get votes (and doesn't mind implying that Bush is a card-carrying member), but they're not about to bring weird Uncle Jebidiah down from the attic in front of company.

After that less-than-artful dodge, he went on to beat his chest a while on the topic of 9/11, and then threaten Iran with military action under the guise of protecting Israel:

But now that I'm on Iran, the threat to Iran, of course -- (applause) -- the threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel. That's a threat, a serious threat. It's a threat to world peace; it's a threat, in essence, to a strong alliance. I made it clear, I'll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally, Israel, and -- (applause.)

OK, then.

By the way, in addition to the Phillips book (discussed a few posts down), there's a good Salon piece from a few years ago on this topic.

Q On behalf of the students here from various high school student leadership programs, we thank you for speaking with us here at the City Club of Cleveland.

THE PRESIDENT: Thanks -- I hope it's a convenient excuse to skip school, but -- (laughter.)

Q Mr. President, with the war in Iraq costing $19,600 per U.S. household, how do you expect a generation of young people such as ourselves, to afford college a time like this, when we're paying for a war Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Well -- hold on for a minute. Hold on. We can do more than one thing at one time. And when you grow your economy, like we're growing our economy, there is an opportunity to not only protect ourselves, but also to provide more Pell grants than any administration in our nation's history, and increase the student loan program. So if you take a look, I think you'll find that we're robust in helping -- at the federal level, helping people go to college. And it's essential you go to college. It's essential that there be a group of youngsters coming up that are well-educated so that we can maintain our economic leadership position in the world. We've got a robust program to do just that.

But it's also essential that we keep policies in place that keep the economy growing. This economy of ours is strong, and it's -- it is, in my judgment, growing stronger. But it is possible to put policy in place that would weaken it, such as raising taxes. I think we got to keep taxes low to keep the economy moving. It's possible to put policy -- (applause) -- it's possible to put policy in place that would hurt this economy, like protectionist policy. It's possible to -- if we keep suing our people trying to risk capital, it's conceivable, we won't be the leader. That's why we need good tort reform. We got to make sure that -- (applause.)

My point to you is economic growth enables us to do more than one thing. And that's what we'll continue to do.

It's more than a little amazing that Bush can answer a question about how Iraq is sucking the federal budget dry (and leaving coming generations mired in debt) by touting tax cuts and tort reform. And get applause.

Q Could you explain why living within the legislation that allowed your administration to get a warrant from a secret court within 72 hours after putting in a wiretap wouldn't be just as effective?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I appreciate the question. He's talking about the terrorist surveillance program that was -- created quite a kerfuffle in the press, and I owe an explanation to. Because our people -- first of all, after September the 11th, I spoke to a variety of folks on the front line of protecting us, and I said, is there anything more we could be doing, given the current laws? And General Mike Hayden of the NSA said there is. The FISA law -- he's referring to the FISA law, I believe -- is -- was designed for a previous period, and is slow and cumbersome in being able to do what Mike Hayden thinks is necessarily -- called hot pursuit.

And so he designed a program that will enable us to listen from a known al Qaeda, or suspected al Qaeda person and/or affiliate, from making any phone call outside the United States in, or inside the United States out -- with the idea of being able to pick up quickly information for which to be able to respond in this environment that we're in. I was concerned about the legality of the program, and so I asked lawyers -- which you got plenty of them in Washington -- (laughter) -- to determine whether or not I could do this legally. And they came back and said, yes. That's part of the debate which you're beginning to see.

I fully understood that Congress needed to be briefed. And so I had Hayden and others brief members of the Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, House members and senators, about the program. The program is under constant review. I sign a reauthorization every -- I'm not exactly sure -- 45 days, say. It's something like that. In other words, it's constantly being reviewed. There's an IG that is very active at the NSA to make sure that the program stays within the bounds that it was designed.

I fully understand people's concerns about it, but ours is a town, by the way, in Washington, where when you don't connect the dots, you're held up to Congress, and when you do connect the dots, you're held up to Congress. I believe what I'm doing is constitutional, and I know it's necessary. And so we're going to keep doing it. (Applause.)

Kudos to the citizen for asking the question the administration can't answer. And indeed, the question was not answered. We are asked to believe that a 72-hour retroactive warrant is "slow and cumbersome."

Applause, applause, applause.

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