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Russert Watch: You're Doing A Heckuva Job, Yosh!

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["Yosh" is one of the president's nicknames for Chief of Staff Josh Bolten. The mentionable nickname. According to Bolten in this Fox News interview, the president has at least two obscene nicknames for Bolten.]

Since Josh Bolten was upped from the OMB to White House chief of staff, I've wondered whether this guy knew anything or if he was an empty suit, someone to keep the chair warm while Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney called the real shots.

After seeing Bolten eviscerated by Tim Russert on Meet the Press this morning, I can say with some confidence that he's not only an empty suit, but he's also, like President Russia is big and so is China Bush, patently unqualified to be handling what's commonly referred to as "national issues." Nor will his appearance ameliorate the incompetence meme.

I don't know how much clearer I can be. What I'm saying is, Bolten's debut on Meet the Press was a disaster. He was a quivering mass of lifeless tissues. Nothing more than a befuddled mouthpiece for the incomprehensible illogic of President Bush's White House. Like Tony Snow and Dan Bartlett, he has an "oh crap, I have no idea what to do or say here -- hhhheelllllp me!" look in his eye. It's a look that most Republicans have these days, but especially so amongst the White House regulars.

Now he might be a smart guy, but the more things change, the more they stay the same at the White House. Around the time Bolten was sworn in, Rove was let off the hook by Patrick Fitzgerald; Tony Snow took over the press room; al-Zarqawi was killed; and the president popped in on Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. The best week the president had since 2004 and nothing really great happened. All four events, along with Bolten's upping, were supposed to create a Bush Bounce which never happened. Instead, Yosh gave us the same old shit wrapped in an "All New This Summer!" graphics package heralding back-to-back House reruns. Only this time around, the chief of staff could barely articulate a single damn thing with any kind of consistency or intelligence.

And this is supposed to be the guy who's the new custodian of the administration's notorious punctual and professional demeanor. The guy who makes sure everyone salutes President Bush who, by the way, continues to misunderstand his "commander-in-chief" role -- he's the commander-in-chief of the military, not the American people. Not to be tangential here, but how dare this AWOL frat boy expect a salute from any American civilian.

As for Russert, once he got a bead on Bolten and smelled blood -- incompetent blood -- he ran circles around the chief of staff.

We begin with the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict.

Did the White House chief of staff provide any insights in terms of how the administration was handling the situation? Nope. Nothing new. The White House supports Israel and Secretary Rice is leaving for Jerusalem today to meet with European and Russian allies who, by the way, are already there waiting for the genius American contingent. It's worth noting that she's delaying her trip in order to sit in with Vice President Cheney, President Bush, and Stephen Hadley as they meet with Saudi foreign minister al-Faisal and, of course, Prince Bandar Bush to see if Saudi Arabia can convince Syria to stop this shit.

The most telling exchange, defining the administration's post-tooth-extraction Bumble Snow Monster status, came when Russert cited Ken Mehlman's remarks to the Christians United for Israel.

MR. RUSSERT: And this is what Mr. Mehlman said, "We stand for Israel because their war is our war too. ... Today we are all Israelis." Does the president believe that this is our war?

Bolten replied, his eyes glazed and "hhhellp me" racing through his brain, with:

MR. BOLTEN: The president believes that, that all freedom-loving people deserve support.

Russert fired back:

MR. RUSSERT: So an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States?

And Bolten replied, "That's generally true."

So Hezbollah has attacked America and no shock and awe? No "Hasan Nasrallah Wanted Dead or Alive" t-shirts and bumper magnets? Without a re-election campaign, why bother? Send Condi over there to tell them to stop this shit while President Bush engages in some hard work here at home -- meeting with ambassadors al-Hicks and al-McPhee from the sovereign nation of American Idol.

Or... Maybe after six years the Bush administration has finally figured out that the Middle East is far more complicated than the president's walnut brain can comprehend. It's not as simple as flight suits and Fox News Alerts.

And without bombs and torture, the only thing left for the president is diplomacy. A skill he can barely spell much less master. After this week's open mic boner, imagine the president in a Camp David cabin with Nasrallah, Assad, Olmert, and Lebanese Prime Minister Saniora who, by the way, called Israel's attacks "criminal bombardments" but also noted that Lebanon is too weak to get Hezbollah to stop this shit. What would happen in that room? I mean, besides the president challenging the group to a bike race. Cynical neocon opportunists take note: there's your World War III inciting incident.

IRAQ

Next up, the "encouraging" situation next door at the Iraqi Civil War. WHOOPS! Did I say encouraging? I meant "not encouraging." Awful, in fact. So awful that the White House chief of staff still believes the conditions on the ground are encouraging. WHOOPS! Did he say encouraging? He meant to say awful -- awfully encouraging. You know what? I have no idea anymore. The administration's deception and/or obliviousness has become far too deep and weird to understand.

Nevertheless, Russert came out swinging on this one with a quote from Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the democratically elected speaker of the Iraqi Parliament (their Hastert) who said this week, "The U.S. invasion is the work of butchers." Butchers! That's encouraging. Bolten looked thoroughly sandbagged by this news and a long pregnant pause followed. What did he finally say in response?

"I believe he is a Sunni." And Russia is big and so is China. He also played a bit of a pronoun game, employing the word "he" when referring to al-Mashhadani which led me to believe that perhaps Bolten didn't know al-Mashhadani's name. In fairness, I didn't know the speaker's name either until I looked it up. Then again, I'm not the White House chief of staff.

Russert, who appeared visibly angry by Bolten's ho-hum response, asked Bolten:

MR. RUSSERT: But it must be hard for people all across this country who've given almost 2600 American men and women--their lives, on the ground, in Iraq--and for the leader of parliament to call us butchers?

Bolten really floundered with, "Yeah. I think that's hard." It's hard work sending Americans to die in order to re-elect the president.

He went on to note that Prime Minister Maliki won't say anything like that when he visits the U.S. in a few weeks. Of course he won't. You know, I've wondered if translators aren't coached to scrub offensive comments during state visits from foreign-speaking dignitaries. Just thinking out loud. What if Maliki did, in fact, come to Washington and let the b-word slip. Would the translator be coached before the visit to, say, change "butchers" to "rad mofos" or some such thing? Like I said, just a thought.

After Bolten leap-frogged desperately from one ineffectual talking point to another, Russert finally -- FINALLY! -- said:

MR. RUSSERT: But you have free elections in Iraq, and the head of the parliament calls us butchers. You have free elections in Palestine, and Hamas wins. You have elections in Lebanon, and Hezbollah wins 10--12 seats in the parliament and two Cabinet seats. Free elections are no guarantee of democracy.

Tim Russert said this today. The final remaining justification for the war is being slammed by Tim Russert on Meet the Press. Once I mopped up the coffee from my spit-take, my momentary glee turned to anger. Has he been following along for the last three years? Whenever an election occurs, it doesn't necessarily mean freedom. Tyrants -- Hitler for example -- are often winners of free elections.

Here's the thing with journalists during preludes to war: if they go overboard questioning the motives of the government to the point of seeming unpatriotic, yet we go to war anyway and win -- no problem. We won. But if these same journalists bury their heads during the prelude and we flounder with thousands of dead Americans -- big problem. They didn't do their job and tens of thousands are killed and wounded. It's nice to hear challenging words like these coming from the likes of Russert, but where were these sentiments during the lead-up to the invasion and before 25,000 American casualties fell? Where were these statements during the 2004 election when the president drooled and jaw twitched his way through flagrant lies about the progress of the war?

EMBRYONIC STEM CELL VETO

While I'm criticizing Russert, let's move on to embryonic stem cell funding and the president's first veto ever. At the top of this portion of the discussion, Russert said, "Supporters [of the bill] say that these embryos would've been discarded anyway."

Supporters? Nah. EVERYONE says these embryos will be thrown away if they aren't used for stem cell research. But to his credit, Russert really grilled Bolten on Tony Snow's remarks referring to the embryonic stem cell research as "murder."

Bolten refused to back his press secretary -- the guy he was instrumental in hiring -- by also using "murder." It'd be nice to think that he didn't back Snow's remarks because embryonic stem cell research clearly is not murder. But that's not why. I'm really not sure why he didn't support his guy, but he didn't. He did, however, praise the extremely cynical East Room ceremony in which the president announced his veto of the bill while being flipped off by a little girl behind him.

He also reiterated the president's posture that he refuses to fund the destruction of "innocent life." At the top of the show, Russert aired one of the president's choice quotes on the issue: "This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others."

Russert also pointed out the illogic of it all. These embryos will be destroyed anyway, why not use them to find a cure for lives that aren't going to be flushed? Who's going to adopt 400,000 frozen embryos?

I can tell you, Senator Santorum won't adopt them. He's already got six children and his wife -- maybe Ann B. Davis, too -- piled into an abandoned three bedroom Cape Cod near Pittsburgh. Or so he'd like us to believe. Senator Brownback, well, I think it should be illegal for him to keep the children he has much less adopt 400,000 frozen embryos.

I wonder how Senator Brownback and the president feel about ovum? They're potential life aren't they? Yet billions of women every month discard unfertilized ovum. I say, ladies, that you send your unused ovum to Senators Brownback and Santorum. Sure it's gross, but they'll give your ovum names and have them baptized before they force their children to organize millions of tiny funerals.

But I don't need to make a case for embryonic stem cell research. Most of the American people support using these embryos for research instead of throwing them away, so why shouldn't the president authorize using federal funds to do so? He signed a bill authorizing a bridge to nowhere along with any number of GOP borrow-and-spend pork barrel projects. Why not this? Hell, he's spent most of his presidency planning and executing a federally funded war which has caused, first hand, the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people. I wonder how many pregnant women were killed during the president's invasion and occupation of Iraq.

On that cheerful note, we wrap this week's Russert Watch. One more thing... Let's guess the president's two obscene nicknames for Bolten. My guesses? "Tainty" and "Bukkake."

TRANSCRIPT HERE.