Bushies' sense of invulnerability cracking?
I have a feeling that the White House PR team is kicking themselves over their handling of Bush's Fort Bragg speech. Here's why:
1. It probably seemed a great idea at first to have Bush address the nation about Iraq in front of soldiers. Bush is most comfortable speaking to crowds of men and women in uniform. He really seems to groove on them (and they seem to groove on him as well). What better message to send to Americans than that the troops love Bush and if Americans love the troops then they better love Bush as well?
2. However, as the day of the speech approached, the PR team probably started thinking of an alternative outcome: criticism of Bush for using soldiers as props to prop up his falling approval ratings. Of course, Bush has been doing this for some time, but the mood has started to swing within the establishment media and they are much more likely today to make some noise about this than they would have even two months back.
3. Furthermore, the image of a bunch of "HooHaw"-ing troops probably wouldn't play well with Americans who are growing increasingly anxious about what is happening in Iraq. While Bush plays well with the military crowd, he tends to get all goofy gus while talking with them. When your approval ratings on Iraq are sinking into the 30% range the last image you want to send is of a Command-in-Chief yucking it up.
4. But it was to late to cancel the appearance with the troops. So instead they sent word down late today that the troops were to stifle the "HooHaw"-s and give the President a respectful reception.
5. But what they got was an image of several hundred soldiers sitting stiffly on their hands, even as Bush approached the podium, while Bush recited his "stay the course" message. The only time this changed was when a couple of Bush staffers, probably out of nervous energy, started clapping and launched a scattered wave of applause.
6. The lack of applause has been a major talking point in the post speech analysis fest. So much so that even FOX news was forced to talk about it.
The Bush team probably should have gone with the first instinct. Let the soldiers "HooHaw" and damn the criticism. In fact, they probably could have turned such criticism against the critics as they usually do. The fact that they might have worried that they couldn't may just be a sign that the Bushies sense of invulnerability is cracking.