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Bush Did Not Mention Attacks in Rose Garden Appearance
Bush Did Not Mention Attacks in Rose Garden Appearance
By RICHARD W. STEVENSON
New York Times
Published: December 3, 2005
WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 - As he went before the cameras in the Rose Garden on Friday morning, President Bush was aware of bad news that had not yet been made public: that 10 marines had been killed by a bomb in Iraq. But he made no mention of the attack, sticking to the sunny White Houses message of the day that the economy is strong and the outlook "as bright as it's been in a long time."
For an administration that has been beset by trouble, it was a classic effort to change the subject, and one that could be justified, up to a point, by the facts.
The Labor Department report on Friday morning showing that employers added 215,000 jobs in November was good news, and it came one day after the government announced that the economy grew at a healthy 4.3 percent annual rate in the third quarter.
"We have every reason to be optimistic about our economic future," Mr. Bush said.
Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Bush did not allude to the marines' deaths because he defers to the Pentagon as to when such news should be released, out of concern for the families.
But Mr. Bush's effort to shift public attention to what he characterized as the nation's strong economic foundation was also motivated by a political problem that has dogged him for some time, Republican strategists said. Even as the economy has chugged along nicely if unspectacularly for the last two years, Americans have fallen into a darker mood about the future and given the president little credit for the good news.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll last month found that 52 percent of Americans believe that the economy is getting worse, compared with 18 percent who think it is getting better. Sixty-four percent of respondents said the economy was not good or poor. A Harris poll last month found that 68 percent of Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track. Mr. Bush's approval rating last month for his handling of the economy stood at 37 percent in an Associated Press/Ipsos poll.
So on Friday, the White House and its Republican allies in Congress began a coordinated effort to focus more attention on the positive developments and to take credit for them.
"We're very pleased at what seems to be happening out in the economy," said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, who accused the news media of overlooking the economic progress. "We believe it is directly related to the policies, as I indicated, of the president and this Republican Congress. And we hope that this good news may somehow break through a sea of bad news."
Democrats quickly denounced the Republican offensive as too many words and not enough action.
"This is not the time for self-congratulatory pats on the back," said Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, the minority leader. "It's time to get to work on issues that American families struggle with every day, issues like rising energy prices, skyrocketing health care costs and middle-class tax relief."
To some degree, the White House strategy was a response to pressure from Congressional Republicans to do more to help them heading into the 2006 elections.
At a luncheon session Thursday at a retreat attended by Republicans House and Senate leaders on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert pressed two administration officials, Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, and Dan Bartlett, Mr. Bush's counselor, to be more aggressive in talking about the economy, according to one attendee who asked not to be identified when talking about the private meeting.
Senate Republican leaders did not waste any time doing their part, holding a news conference on Friday morning to kick off an economic offensive at almost the same time that Mr. Bush was addressing reporters, though not taking any questions, in the Rose Garden.
The administration also took the unusual step of having Allan B. Hubbard, the director of the National Economic Council, field questions from reporters at the daily White House briefing. And the Republican National Committee sent out a document listing 15 pieces of positive economic news, including two making the point that the American economy is healthier than Germany's.
But the administration appeared to be approaching the politics of the economy in much the same way it was approaching the politics of the war: convinced that the problem is not primarily with the substance of its policy, but with skewed public perceptions of reality.
Asked to explain the difference between public views of Mr. Bush's performance on the economy and the macroeconomic statistics, Mr. Hubbard said that the sharp rise in energy prices "makes people feel ill at ease" and that many Americans had been concerned that Hurricane Katrina would hurt the economy more than it did.
Mr. Bush, he said, is "more concerned about results than he is about polls, and what pleases him and pleases us in his administration is that, you know, the economy is doing well."
The intensity of the public relations effort was especially striking given the news that the White House was citing. The gain of 215,000 jobs in November was certainly healthy and signaled that the hurricanes had not dented the economy much, but would not typically be the kind of development that would lead to a Rose Garden appearance by Mr. Bush. During the eight years of the Clinton administration, the economy generated an average of 240,000 jobs a month.
Moreover, Mr. Bush and his allies ignored or glossed over statistics suggesting that the economy, in the short run as well as the long run, faced big challenges. Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman, used a speech on Friday to warn of the dangers from the budget deficit. And while job growth has picked up over the last two years, wages have continued to lag behind inflation, leaving many families struggling to keep up with the cost of living.
"It's not just the number of jobs, it's the quality of jobs," said Peter Morici, a professor of business at the University of Maryland.