Shorter Bush Press Conference:

Question: How can Russia become more democratic?

Bush: Putin should have supported the war in Iraq. Also, the WTO.

Question: What does Rumsfeld have to do to rebuild trust?

Bush: Nothing.

Question: What did you learn from Bernard Kerik’s failed nomination as Secretary of Homeland Security?

Bush: He would have been an awesome Secretary of Homeland Security.

Question: Why are Americans so anxious about your plans in Iraq:

Bush: It’s those Iraqi troops’ fault for running off the battlefield whenever things get tough. Also, the media for some reason seems to think that bombings are more newsworthy than small businesses.

Question: Some people are worried that your social security plan will force millions of Americans to retire into poverty. What’s the deal?

Bush: Keep in mind, I also wannt to strip your right to sue big business and shut down more schools for getting low test scores. As for social security, don’t bother trying to trick me into telling you what my plan is. For now, I’m just focusing on whipping the public into unsubstantiated panic. And keep in mind, FDR is dead.

Question: How many more Christmases are American troops going to have to spend in Iraq?

Bush: I’m too clever to set policy goals that’ll you’ll just turn around and criticize me for when I abjectly fail to meet them. Also, I know how to use the expression “in toto.”

Question: What are you going to do about Iran and North Korea?

Bush: Saddam Hussein, he was a bad guy. He violated a lot of UN resolutions.

Question: Why don’t you veto some of these spending bills?

Bush: Because I told Congress what to put in them.

Question: Whose benefits are secure?

Bush: Killing Social Security would be a lot easier if those old people didn’t keep getting so panicked. It’s not their checks I want to reneg on – just everybody else’s.

Question: How is it no one seems to agree with your immigration plan?

Bush: I know immigration. I was Governor of Texas.

Question: Where the hell is Osama bin Laden? And what’s with the violations of international law at Guantanamo Bay?

Bush: Well, we’ve killed a bunch of people other than Osama bin Laden. And clearly the world community isn’t paying enough attention to our Supreme Court decision.

Question: Why doesn’t Rumsfeld sign condolence letters to the families of troops he’s sending to get killed?

Bush: I know he seems gruff, but believe me he’s a real teddy bear inside.

Question: How did the war in Iraq affect prospects for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Bush: Everybody’s got a lot of responsibilities. Also, Yasser Arafat and Colin Powell are both out of the picture now. Now, on to high school football…

Some quick thoughts on the debate, before hearing many talking heads:

I thought John Kerry did a very, very strong job. He managed to appear erudite but not snotty and resolute but not haughty. He even smiled and laughed a little. He managed to repeatedly hammer home a few points (more of which I agree with than not) without sounding repetitive: The war on terror shouldn’t be fought and won’t be won alone. Hussein was a threat based faced by the President with the support of Congress and the international community, and Bush misused the former and squandered the latter. Iraq wasn’t central to the War on Terror until Bush made it a training ground for terrorists. Being resolute isn’t enough if you aren’t right. Screwing up the war is worse than screwing up the words. Bush has been crimminally negligent in shoring up Homeland Security and fighting nuclear proliferation. Of course, I would have liked to see Kerry taking a stronger, more progressive stance on Iraq going back years now, I’d like to see him fighting harder for an immigration policy which doesn’t treat immigrants as terrorists, I’d like to hear more about fighting terrorism by fighting poverty, about AIDS as a threat to international security – the list goes on. But this was a much stronger case for Kerry as commander-in-chief than we got at the Convention, and I think a good chunk of the genuinely undecided will agree.

The best I could say for Bush is he certainly managed to project a sense of sincerity. Arguing that your opponent is a flip-flopper packs a lot less punch in real time in a debate than in retrospect in a newspaper article. And he didn’t find many particularly creative ways to say so. While Bush argued hard (and seemingly unnecessarily) for the chance to rebut several of Kerry’s rebuttals, much of the time it was to dodge the actual question. We heard the word liberty a lot from Bush, but we didn’t get much of a case for his presidency and we got less of a plan for it. And the outrageous moments were hard to count: Bush repeatedly implying that criticizing military policy during war disqualifies you to set it; Bush arguing that protecting America as well as Kerry wants to would be too expensive; Bush confusing Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden (isn’t that why they rehearse); every cut away of Bush smirking or looking petulant.

Nathan Newman offers a good reason to like Kerry. Mickey Kaus offers several reasons not to. As I see it, Kerry’s greatest offense of the past months has been telling Eric Alterman in early December

Eric, if you truly believe that if I had been President, we would be at war in Iraq right now, then you shouldn’t vote for me

and then using the capture of Saddam Hussein to argue Howard Dean was weak for opposing the war.

Jacob highlights (first here, then here) a deeply troubling and shamefully unreported story: US troops being used to destroy and dismantle Iraqi trade union headquarters and arrest their leaders – this in the context of continued US maintenance of Ba’athist labor laws. Of course, it’s easy to become numb to this kind of rank hypocrisy from this administration – but vital not to. Enforcing Saddam’s Pinkerton policies ranks up there with appealing to Cuban sovereignty to justify abusing POWs in Camp X-Ray and co-operating with the “evildoers” at the UN to hamstring global access to contraception. Let’s not forget the Bush Doctrine:

If you can make something that others value, you should be able to sell it to them. If others make something that you value, you should be able to buy it. This is real freedom…

Those other freedoms are just to be trotted out when the situation calls for a moral fig leaf.

Lodge your protest here.

From a piece by Robert Scheer:

In a Washington Post interview, Wilson added, “It really comes down to the administration misrepresenting the facts on an issue that was a fundamental justification for going to war. It begs the question: What else are they lying about?”

Those are the carefully chosen words of a 23-year career diplomat who, as the top U.S. official in Baghdad in 1990, was praised by former President Bush for his role as the last American to confront Saddam face-to-face after the dictator invaded Kuwait. In a cable to Baghdad, the President told Wilson: “What you are doing day in and day out under the most trying conditions is truly inspiring. Keep fighting the good fight.”

As Wilson observed wryly, “I guess he didn’t realize that one of these days I would carry that fight against his son’s administration.”