Last week's White House press conference was notable for a number of reasons. First, any time President Bush answers questions from the press is a noteworthy event, given that he has deigned to do so fewer times than almost any other modern President. It was also notable because mere hours earlier, North Korea claimed to have tested a nuclear weapon underground.
The press conference was also noteworthy because of what happened after the President left the podium. Just after he wrapped things up in the Rose Garden, top Pentagon officials held a press conference of their own to announce a new plan to maintain US Army strength in Iraq at current levels, roughly 140,000 Soldiers, through 2010. This was startling news, if only because it stands in such stark contrast to the initial war plans (or lack thereof), which called for reducing troop strength in Iraq to 30,000 by the end of 2003.
It's baffling that the President did not find this decision important enough to mention himself. Maybe he hoped the press corps would be too preoccupied filing their stories to notice the Army's announcement. Or maybe the Pentagon is ready to admit just how bad things have gotten in Iraq, but the President is not. Has it really come to this?
But there's one more reason yesterday's White House press conference was notable. In between questions on such topics as nuclear proliferation, an alleged child predator in Congress, and the death of untold thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq, our President found time to make wisecracks about the wardrobe of the White House press corps. And the press corps, for their part, indulged him. It's all right there, in the official press conference transcript.
Q: Thank you, Mr. President --
THE PRESIDENT: If I might say, that is a beautiful suit.
Q: Thank you, sir. My tailor appreciates that.
THE PRESIDENT: And I can't see anybody else that even comes close. (Laughter.)
Q: Thank you very much. I'll be happy to pass along my tailor's number if you'd like that, sir.
It went on like that for a while. It was pathetic. And I was not amused.
The next day, I read about how many US troops were killed and wounded in Iraq. I wonder if any of them died, or lost a limb, or were blinded at the same time our President was cracking jokes on national television.
His attitude at the press conference reminded me of his little performance back in 2004 at the White House Correspondents Dinner, when he cracked jokes about not being able to find WMD in Iraq. Here is the video if you missed it. That wasn't funny either. Remember that?
As a veteran of this war in Iraq, I am sickened by the consistently flip nature of the President in the face of deadly serious issues. His ridiculous banter reflects poorly upon all Americans.
If I want comedy, I don't look to our President. I'd rather get it from someone like John Stewart. Stewart doesn't have to concern himself with acting as the Commander and Chief--and he is actually good at being funny. He even did a brilliant piece on the press conference. Watch it here.
Asked about the President's jokes at the press conference last week, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said, "Although he's president and that's a serious job, he does like to reach out to others in friendly ways."
And the press, once again, indulged him.
"I've been covering him since 1993," said Ken Herman, a Cox Newspapers reporter who was teased by Bush about his seersucker suit yesterday. "That's the way he likes to make connections. He still has some frat boy in him."
Thanks Ken, but with nukes in North Korea, perverts in Congress and 140,000 of my brothers and sisters in uniform bound to serve another four years in Iraq, I'd rather have a statesman than a frat boy.