THE WHITE HOUSE -- Battered but not beaten, President Bush met with several journalists here on Wednesday and said terrorists "want to sow fear so that we'll withdraw. I will not yield to them, to their blackmail, to their murders ..."
The "I" was not an anomaly. George W. Bush, taught to identify that one-letter word with ego, infrequently used it in small groups while governor of Texas and during 2001. After 40 months in the Oval Office, though, he is sure about his presidential role and willing to assert it. "The job of the president is to help cultures change," he said. "I can be a voice of cultural change."
He wants to influence domestic culture. He spoke, as he has before, of his opposition to abortion and his desire to "promote a culture of life, (with) every child welcomed to life and protected by law." He spoke, as he has done recently, about his commitment to a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, but -- as with abortion -- cast himself in a supporting role: "People have to speak. ... I'll be glad to lend my voice." Asked about the extent of the popular outcry so far, he said, "I'm not sure people understand the issue," and he seemed inclined to fold the marriage question into one of judicial overreach: "I don't want this decided by judges. It's too big an issue."
President Bush also wants to influence Iraqi culture: Iraqis "haven't developed the habits of free people yet." But he believes they will, because "freedom is the Almighty's gift to every person in the world." He has aides researching statements of doubt made after World War II concerning the ability of the Japanese to develop a democracy, since they also had non-Western religious and political traditions
Asked if something inherently evil in Islam makes the process of peacemaking difficult, the president specified that he was condemning radicals with "a deep desire to spread an ideology that is anti-woman, anti-free thought, anti-art and science."
Is their religion at fault? "They conveniently use religion to kill. The religion I know is not one that encourages killing." Asked again about the nature of Islam, he smiled and said, "You're trying to lure me down a road ... where I'm incapable of winning the debate." Then he stated emphatically that our enemies "have a perverted view of what religions should be. ... These are people who will kill at the drop of a hat, and they'll kill anybody. That's not, at least, my view of religion."