On "Meet the Press" Sunday, Tim Russert challenged President Bush about the past. Why didn't we know Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction before going to war with Iraq? Why has federal spending gotten out of control since he became president? Why have we suffered so much economic woe for the past three years?
The president dealt with these questions about the past quite convincingly. My concern is that Republicans aren't offering a riveting vision for the future, no "big ideas" around which to rally the American people and our friends around the world. I sense that with a tightening presidential race, the American people are sending Republicans a message - not "We think the president has done a bad job so far," but rather "You haven't yet convinced us to re-elect Republicans and the president for another four years."
No objective person could have watched the president respond to Russert without being totally convinced that before taking us to war the president believed that Saddam was a threat to the region and ultimately to the United States. "I expected to find the weapons," the president said, and I believe him.
The president also was thoroughly convincing that he truly believed Saddam was such a "dangerous madman" and "a threat of unique urgency" that, in the president's mind, Saddam had to be taken out as quickly as possible. Bush revealed the depth and intensity of his fear of Saddam when he described sitting in the Oval Office in what he described as "the worst nightmare scenario for any president," believing that a madman who cannot be contained had the "capacity to arm up with some of these deadly weapons and then strike us."
"I'm a war president," Bush told Russert. "I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind. ... I see dangers that exist, and it's important for us to deal with them."
Many Americans may disagree with how the president dealt with the dangers he perceived, and they may even disagree with his estimate of the magnitude of the dangers. But after Sunday's interview, I'll bet most people will reject the claim that he intentionally deceived the public and lied us into war.
On domestic matters, when Russert confronted the president with the fact that "your base conservatives ... they're all saying you are the biggest spender in American history," Bush shot back, "They're wrong.
The last year of President Clinton, discretionary spending was up 15 percent, and ours has steadily declined."