I was about to write a fairly gloomy column on the failure of the Bush White House to explain events in Iraq when I chanced to tune in President Bush's impromptu press conference yesterday morning. It was a strong beginning for an effective White House communications strategy: Let Mr. Bush mix it up with the Washington press corp without a script. Where last week's remarks were stilted, and heavily over-edited, yesterday's were spontaneous, fresh, honest, informed and uplifting.
It was fascinating to observe the transformation in front of one's very eyes. Yesterday's comments had been characterized by the White House, before the event, as a brief prepared statement, after which he might take a few questions. Indeed, the opening statement was standard bureaucratic gibberish. I can't remember a word of it. It was the kind of statement that results after many senior State Department and National Security Council staffers have over-vetted all life out of a few paragraphs: cautious, hortatory, on-message, official.
As the president started to take a few questions, his answers remained in that dull, careful mode. Then, suddenly, he looked up at the sky, exclaimed what a beautiful day it was and blurted out that he was turning his remarks into "a full-blown press conference," playfully asking the press corp whether he would "get credit for it."
From that moment on his comments came alive. Instead of giving prepared answers to already anticipated questions, he actually paused, pondered the questions and tried to answer them honestly. When he was asked when he wanted the new Iraqi government to send a representative to the United Nations to participate in deliberations on the Anglo-U.S.-sought Iraq resolution, his first answer was "soon." A moment later he added, "as soon as possible." Then, as an afterthought, he elaborated on the critical role of such a new Iraqi representative.
This may not seem like much, but consider that the government he is talking about was in the process of being born even as he was speaking. The Iraqi men and women assuming office over the next few days do not yet have a formed U.N. policy. The normal State Department-vetted presidential statement under such circumstances would remain noncommittal. But, as the State Department did not expect a presidential press conference, they hadn't had a chance to strongly advise the president to say nothing if the topic came up.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.
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