Like you, I read enough political commentary, watch enough talking-heads shows and know enough folks on both sides of the aisle that I rarely get too upset when someone says something absolutely off-the-charts ridiculous. It's often par for the course in heated political battles. However, some press response to a presidential press conference put me over the edge.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank sent me loony-tunes when he ridiculed President Bush for faulting Congress "16 times in his opening statement alone" during a Rose Garden press conference.
I agree. Maybe he could have done it 20.
George W. Bush, in his last year in the Oval Office, is clearly not a lame-duck president who is wasting time. As long as he has that bully pulpit, he's going to make use of it. In recent weeks, we've watched him bring attention to issues of war, peace and education. On April 29, he exerted some pressure on Congress. And for that he was accused of a desperate ploy to raise his poll numbers. (It's beyond my comprehension how nudging Congress would have been a miracle-worker over at Gallup.)
I look at responses like Milbank's and it may not be fair to single him out, but he is a telling example and I think: Can we grow up? The Left has been motivated for a number of years now by their hatred for Bush. Don't they have any urge to exercise a little responsible leadership instead of standing in the way of it?
During the press conference, the president took one of many opportunities to shine a spotlight on things that matter. A quick example: If you go to the Web site of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, you'll see a counter. It shows that for nearly 80 days, our defenses have been down. Its focus is the Protect America Act, which expired in February, just before Congress' President's Day vacation. Congress won't reauthorize it.
At the press conference, the president said: "On the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Survey Act) issue, it is hard to believe that it's OK to pass the Protect America Act in August of 2007 and that ... people in Congress ... don't believe that act is relevant in 2008." He said that it's "either lack of leadership or a lack of understanding of the issue, and either way, it's not good for the country. We need to make sure our professionals have the tools to protect the American people from attack."
The bill allowed surveillance of foreign targets outside the United States, without court authorization, who were communicating with other foreigners outside the United States. The myth of the legislation is that it would have the government listening in on your conversations. Not at all. As Heritage explains it, the Protect America Act "has nothing at all to do with domestic wiretapping and has only an incidental relation to Americans' communications." Domestic wiretapping actually requires judicial authorization.
So President Bush gives Congress a little grief because they're keeping the intelligence community from having these key tools they want and need. I, for one, would like to see Congress doing little things, like funding the troops (the war supplemental), giving the intelligence community the tools it needs (FISA), and not buying into summertime gimmicks (gas-tax holiday). These are issues the president addressed in the press conference that were made to look like a blame-shifting joke.
What do reporters think the president should be discussing instead? One reporter asked the president: "You've expressed frustration with Congress. ... Are you frustrated? Are you angry? And do you have any real hope of being able to work with this Congress this year?"
This year? Not as long as everyone else in the Rose Garden wants to talk about feelings. Real issues on the campaign trail? Not when we're distracted by fireworks and drama. These are serious times. They call for serious people. Believe it or not, love him or not, the president is one of them. His fellow D.C. public servants ought to join him.