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Lame Duck Bush Has Swagger, Not Waddle
President Continues To Do As He Pleases
Helen Thomas, Hearst White House columnist
President George W. Bush is not letting his lame duck status stop him from displaying an arrogance of power.
When a Texas newspaper reporter told him, "Power is perception," Bush corrected him, saying, "Power is being president."
In fact, Bush is proving that a lame duck has a lot of power to do what he wants to do since he doesn't have to be re-elected and, therefore, is answerable to no one.
Furthermore, he indicates he could care less whether he goes up or down in public opinion polls. With more than three years left in his presidency, the president's only political constraints may come from members of his own party.
In recent days, Bush has seen Senate Republican leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., take issue with him on stem cell research and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., put off action on his unpopular plan to transform the Social Security system.
When elected for a second term, Bush gloried in having a vast supply of political capital and assured the country that he intended to use it.
Defying warnings and appeals from several quarters, including most Democrats and many State Department officials, Bush sent John Bolton to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. It was an "in your face" move.
Bolton -- who served in Bush's first term as undersecretary of state for arms control -- carries a lot of baggage that should not belong in a diplomat's portfolio.
Bolton is a bully and was accused of abusing subordinates and twisting intelligence. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided not to name him as her chief deputy.
Bush told a gathering of Texas journalists Monday with some pomposity that "Bolton's standing in the world depends upon my confidence in Bolton, and I've got a lot of confidence in Bolton."
In another sign that he thinks he can call his own shots, Bush has defaulted on his promise to reporters that he would hold a news conference once a month. He held none in June and July, despite the fact that there are many questions out there, including a draining war which is rarely mentioned at the White House.
Ignoring the White House press corps is one thing, but it seems that he showed an enormous disrespect for 123 members of Congress who signed two letters to the White House May 5 and June 15 asking for certain documents on the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.
The last letter -- personally delivered to the White House gate by Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Barbara Lee, D-Calif. -- also sought an explanation of the Downing Street Memo, a British document which indicated that the U.S. and Britain agreed by the summer of 2002 to attack Iraq. That was months before Bush sought congressional authority to take military action.
The memo, written by a high-ranking British official after returning from a visit to Washington, also said that U.S. officials were deliberately manipulating intelligence to justify the war.
The lawmakers did not receive even the courtesy of a reply from the president.
For the 50th time since he assumed the presidency in 2001, Bush Tuesday flew to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for a vacation and to bask in several legislative victories.
Among them was the passage of the Central American Trade Agreement, despite strong labor and Democratic opposition.
He plans to fly to New Mexico to sign the $14.5 billion energy legislation that provides billions in tax breaks to the oil, natural gas and coal industries. The new law is designed to promote the production of non-traditional and alternative fuels.
He also won passage of the nearly $300 billion highway and mass-transit bill that is expected to build new roads and create new jobs.
Meantime, he is expected to win a victory when the Senate confirms John Roberts for the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, although close scrutiny of Roberts' record will give pause to anyone who cares about civil rights, affirmative action or abortion rights.
Bush is feeling powerful and satisfied these days, but I doubt that mood is matched by the people who know there is a war going on.
(Helen Thomas can be reached at the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org )