Sometimes success with the public depends as much on good presentation as it does on good policy. It might be wise for the White House to re-examine both areas.
During my years of active involvement in Republican politics, I came to know former Vice President Dan Quayle. His public persona was different from the Dan Quayle many knew and liked. From the "Murphy Brown" incident to his notorious misspelling of "potato," Quayle suffered from a perception that he lacked the confidence and intellect to be an effective vice president.
In reality, Quayle was quite capable. In private conversations he seemed to be more in tune with the average American than most of his fellow GOP leaders. He also displayed both candor and humor, attributes rarely witnessed at his lofty level of the political world.
Ironically, as those who know the real Quayle attended the unveiling of a statue in his honor at the U.S. Capitol last week, the current GOP administration was struggling to make strides in its own battles with public perception.
Following President Bush's rather tepid speech to the nation on Sept. 7, in which he delivered the bad news that he would request an additional $87 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq, the president's declining approval ratings accelerated their slide. That prompted a rare television appearance by Vice President Dick Cheney on NBC's " Meet the Press" to help improve public perception.
Unlike Quayle, Cheney has no trouble coming across as bright and confident on TV. But while conservative partisans rarely want to hear the truth until it runs them over, it has to be said that Cheney's cool and polished brilliance can have the effect of unsettling many viewers.
Cheney's deliberate, understated style borders on condescension. In answering what could fairly be termed a barrage of tough questions by host Tim Russert on Sunday, the vice president brushed off the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been discovered in Iraq with a glib answer suggesting that such evidence does now or once did exist, whether or not proof can be found.
When confronted with his own 1980s quotes criticizing then-President Reagan for excessive budget deficits, the vice president said the nation often has made exceptions for unique circumstances like war. A reasonable answer, but one that might leave those of us who considered Ronald Reagan a great president to wonder whether the threat from the Cold War of his era was not an equally compelling justification for accelerated deficit spending.
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