Wednesday, May 26, 2004

I'd like to think that the major TV networks' declining to carry President Bush's "major" speech on Iraq on Monday was some kind of turning point, a gradual and groggy waking-up from a previously abject fealty to the Bush agenda. An outraged Trib column this morning reminded me how shocking this really ought to be: that a prime-time address by a president (especially one who almost never speaks to the media) during a time of war on the conduct of that war would not be deemed worthy of live broadcast.

Maybe the networks were just realizing what a growing majority of Americans already know: Bush has nothing new to say on Iraq. No ideas, no answers, no apologies, no solutions. His much-vaunted "plan" was simply a rehashing of things that we're either already supposed to be doing (the June 30th "transfer" of sovereignty to a powerless Iraqi government) or should have done already (the rebuilding of basic infrastructure).

Some pundits note that it's the end of sweeps season and the networks didn't want to disrupt their big-ticket programming. But maybe even more telling is the fact that the White House didn't even bother to ask for the time, which the networks probably would have felt obligated to provide. I think this is a sign that even the administration realizes that Bush's rhetoric--once held up as an exemplar of force and moral clarity--is become a liability, as it's becoming clear that the administration has no idea how to handle the complexities of rebuilidng Iraq, or even of managing its own forces there. Better to make a lot of noise about Bush making a "major" policy address--no shallow thinker, he!--and then make sure that no one actually sees it.

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