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In Bush's Bubble, It's a Rose-Colored World
Published on Wednesday, November 30, 2005 by the Rocky Mountain News (Colorado)
In Bush's Bubble, It's a Rose-Colored World
by Mike Littwin

It was an extremely select audience that went to see the president - we'll call it the Bush in a Bubble tour - Tuesday at the Brown Palace.

You knew it was a select crowd not only because of the $1,000-a-plate price tag for the Marilyn Musgrave fundraiser - and, for the record, she was not wearing a pink skirt.

No, this was the real giveaway: Many people in the audience - for all I know, all of them - apparently still believe George W. Bush knows what he's doing in Iraq.

I know, it sounds crazy. But I was there to see it myself.

They cheered when he said, "We have a strategy for victory in Iraq." Even as I kept wondering what strategy that could possibly be.

They cheered when he said, "We will defeat the enemy in Iraq. We will protect the American people." As if one necessarily follows the other.

Of course, they also cheered when Bush planted the full-forehead smooch on Musgrave, the congresswoman being a powerful advocate for the traditional man-on-woman smooch.

Give Bush's handlers credit. It's no easy matter to find such an uncritical audience - not if you even remotely trust Bush's poll numbers.

Try these. According to the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 63 percent of Americans believe Bush is mishandling the war in Iraq, and 60 percent say it wasn't worth it to have gone to Iraq in the first place.

And then there's this: In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 57 percent say the Bush administration misled the American public on the way to Iraq.

And then there's the nearly 100 percent dissent-free world in which Bush travels. It is Dan Froomkin of who calls this world Bush's bubble - one in which there's almost no possibility of Bush ever hearing a discouraging word.

Bush's post-Thanksgiving-weekend schedule, Froomkin notes, includes speeches at the U.S. Border Patrol office, an Air Force base, the Naval Academy, two Republican fundraisers and one Republican donor reception.

In other words, he's going no place where he might bump into either, say, John Murtha or the Denver Three.

In his speech at the Naval Academy today, Bush is expected to offer the latest upbeat assessment on Iraq and of the progress being made by the Iraqi army.

The reception there might be better than the one he got from the maybe 500 protesters who stood behind the barriers outside the Brown Palace Tuesday.

I don't think Bush heard them as he drove quickly past them to and from the hotel. And I doubt anyone on his staff will make him a DVD.

Bill Owens, who rode with Bush from the airport, said the president did see the protesters, but didn't pay them any attention.

"He's used to it," Owens said.

Well, yeah. Or maybe you missed Bush on his less than triumphant Asian and South American tours.

This was a particularly unfriendly crowd of protesters, who should be thankful they live in a country where you can flip off the president and chant "Impeach Bush" while banging pans with a spatula and no one will arrest you and lock you up as an enemy combatant or for crimes against Miss Manners.

At least I think no one will.

Still, it's not the kind of photo-op you want as you're trying to rehabilitate your presidency. The victory strategy here is clearer.

First, there is the campaign to change the conversation on Iraq. You can't change people's minds once they turn on a war. But you can convince them that you're trying to find a way out.

The other is to try to get in front of the immigration issue, where he's getting hammered by Republicans like U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo and state Rep. Dave "Doc" Schultheis, who think his program is really an amnesty program.

On Iraq, it looks as if Bush will declare progress - as opposed to victory - and work to bring home some of the troops before the 2006 congressional elections.

You can, all too easily, miss the news of the progress. If you listen, say, to the Sunni complaints that Iraqi troops are targeting Sunni neighborhoods. Or to former Iraq prime minister Ayad Allawi telling the Guardian in London that torture today in Iraq is "the same as (in) Saddam's time or worse." Or if you note the reports of as many as 100 insurgent attacks daily.

As for the readiness of Iraqi troops, the cover story by James Fallows in The Atlantic this month is headlined: "Why Iraq Has No Army." Gen. George Casey told Congress in late September that only one battalion was ready to fight the insurgents without U.S. help. That was down from an estimate of three in June.

OK, maybe not so much progress.

On immigration, Bush got the biggest cheer Tuesday when he said, "I stand strongly against amnesty." He was just back from the border, where he had said the same thing - only at the time he was wearing a nifty Border Patrol jacket.

It's Bush getting tough on illegal immigration. But you can't get tough enough to please people like Schultheis, the pistol-packing border patroller, who was calling Bush's plan "totally unacceptable." And even Musgrave opposed Bush's plan last year.

Still, Bush raised some $450,000 for Musgrave, considered one of the GOP's most vulnerable incumbents, at Tuesday's bash. He showed, in fact, he remains an unabashed hit among those who can spend $1,000 for lunch.

That's a lot, even inside a bubble.

Mike Littwin has moved back to writing a news column. He came to the Rocky Mountain News as a sports columnist from the Baltimore Sun, where he wrote a sports column for seven years and a general column for five. Before that, he worked at the Los Angeles Times as a sports and national news feature writer. Mike has contributed to many magazines, including Sports Illustrated, Esquire, TV Guide and Capital Style.

© 2005 Rocky Mountain News


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