Let's face it: White House briefings are much more fun these days, now that Tony Snow is the emcee.
After five painful years of Ari "Up Yours!" Fleischer and Scott "Why Me?" McClellan, it's refreshing to watch a presidential press secretary go at his job with such good-natured gusto.
For Snow, this change of venue from Fox News Channel to the Bush White House -- i.e., this lateral move within The Organization -- must have been like going home. Okay, like staying home, but now he's back in the main house with Dad. And he's loving every minute of it. Even when the Old Man sends him out on the trail.
"Yesterday, I was in the Oval Office with the president," Snow confided last Saturday to a rapt Republican gathering in St. Charles, Illinois. "Yeah, I was in the Oval Office. Just me and the president. Nobody else." The crowd, there to fatten the Save Denny Hastert's A** Fund, must have swooned at the very thought of being alone in a room with this charming fellow who gets be alone in a room with the Commander-in-Chief.
Can you imagine Ari and Scotty out on the hustings, wowing the faithful with their tales from the crypt? No way. It was all they could do to get up in the morning and schlep down to meet the press corps.
Ah, but Tony: now there's a guy who can light up a room. Tall, trim and toothsome as all get-out, Snow can sweet-talk his way out of a traffic jam. If he could sing and dance, he'd be Attorney General.
But that's the thing with Tony Snow. He's so affable, so glib, so gosh-darned disarming that he can tell you you've just been diddled and all you want to know is: Is that with three "d's" or four?
One of my fondest memories of Tony from his days at Fox News Channel goes back to the 2000 presidential campaign. Just after the national conventions, the Republican Party put out a TV commercial that employed what many considered to be a form of subliminal messaging: a flash of large-letter text morphing the word "BUREAUCRATS" (i.e., Democrats) down to its last four letters -- "RATS."
Fox News later would trumpet as proof of its "fairness" and "balance" the fact that it was the first network to expose the questionable Republican ad. But, in fact, the revelation -- by Snow on FNC's "Special Report" -- had not been delivered as an expose' at all.
"Our crack crew noticed something very interesting," said Snow, gleefully introducing the ad. "Take a look at this. This is really cool." Then, as the tape froze on "RATS," he gushed: "Is that subliminal or what?"
In other words: "Wow! This is the awesome-est dirty trick since Watergate. Wanna see it again?" He might have added, "And that would be four 'd's' in diddled."
This is not to criticize Snow. It's his job - was then and is now - to put the best possible spin on all things Republican. And for a smoothie like Tony, that's not as tough as it might seem. Sometimes he does it by saying nothing at all. Take, for instance, his "Fox News Sunday" interview with Trent Lott that same election year.
The issue at hand was the New York senatorial race and, specifically, an allegation that the Democrat, Hillary Clinton, had, in Arkansas in 1974 -- 26 years earlier -- used an anti-Semitic slur to berate then congressional candidate Bill Clinton's campaign manager.
Now, in 2000, Snow asked Lott, the Senate Republican leader, for comment on Hillary's race against Republican Rick Lazio in New York. As a lead-in, Snow noted that, "Clinton is now accused of having uttered anti-Semitic imprecations along the line."
Maybe the phrase "along the line" confused the senator. Or the word "imprecations." Asserting that Lazio had been receiving "substantial support" from New York's historically Democratic Jewish voters, Lott astutely opined: "I think that's one of the reasons why Hillary is uttering these anti-Semitic comments, if in fact she is."
Now, you'd have expected Snow to jump in and set Lott straight - to say, "Hold on. Nobody says Hillary's making anti-Semitic remarks in this campaign. We're talking 26 years ago." (He was, after all, conducting a news interview.) But you'd have been wrong. Always the gentleman, Tony allowed his guest to save face. He said nothing.
And Hillary Clinton had to go on the defensive, to refute a "charge" that no one had actually made. I can see her now, waving a fist even as she struggles to stifle a smile: "Darn you, Tony. You got me that time, you mossik!"
Yes, that's you, Good Time Tony Snow. If we didn't know better, we might suspect there was something devilish behind those angel eyes; something dark behind that pearly smile; something Machiavellian behind that soothing, happy talk. But we do know better. Don't we, Tony?
Okay, now. Drop the smirk and say something.