President George W. Bush's now-exhaustively vetted interview Sunday with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" proved the O.J. principle once again: People see and hear what they are predisposed to see and hear.
Most Democrats saw a bumbling, evasive fool who can't account for missing WMD or failed intelligence. Most Republicans saw the usual George Bush who did just fine.
As an Independent, I fall squarely into the "He did fine" camp, with the disclaimer that I wouldn't mind if the forensics fairy visited Bush's chambers on Interview Eve. I want him to do well, to speak clearly and unequivocally, because what he means to say is so important.
When he falters, I find consolation in the fact that Bill Clinton was a mellifluous speaker, and he allowed Osama bin Laden to build a worldwide army against us.
I trust Bush to fumble his words, but not the ball in what for me and other post-9/11 Americans is a single-issue election: winning the war on terror and thwarting the growing menace of irrational, hate-filled barbarians who happen to think that we are Satan.
In the crossfire of so much partisan sharpshooting, it is difficult for even the most focused to keep a steady gaze on the target. For now, it is to ensure that Iraq become an independent, pluralistic, constitutionally governed nation.
If that doesn't happen, all other bets are off. Bickering about who helps The Poor more or who loves The Children most will become ibids in history's index of forgotten footnotes.
What Bush knows to be true - and what he says if not perfectly - is that we are in the midst of World War III. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein was necessary to changing the dynamics that led to Sept. 11 and to inhibit future assaults on our soil and interests.
As long as Saddam was in power, flaunting both the United States and the United Nations, terrorists and the nations that tolerated them were empowered and encouraged.
It is no coincidence that Libya's Col. Moammar Gadhafi decided to share his nuclear programs upon seeing Saddam lifted from his spider hole. Or that Iran has decided that allowing international inspectors to drop by for tea would be an acceptable alternative to shock and awe.
As a matter of record, Saddam never complied with his obligation to disarm in a way that could be verified. He never proved that he no longer had the capacity to harm others, defying ultimatums as he continued torturing and murdering his own people.
At what point exactly were we supposed to say, oh, OK, you don't have to comply? Surely not after Sept. 11. Surely not as Saddam was sending money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Surely not after Bush declared in his Sept. 20, 2001, address before a joint session of Congress:
"From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."
When Russert asked about WMD and our apparently flawed intelligence, I wish Bush had said what is manifestly true: Saddam Hussein was a weapon of mass destruction. Or, refining the acronym, he was a weapon of mass death.
Mass death leads to mass graves and we've found more of those than even Iraqi exiles had prepared us for. As to intelligence about stockpiles of weapons of mass death, nuclear capability and the gathering threat, Bush answered Russert as well as the question can be answered.
We relied on the best intelligence we had. We believed it; the international community believed it; Congress believed it. Was our intelligence wrong?
By degrees, it appears that our intelligence wasn't perfect, but intelligence never is. One strong theory as to how we got it wrong is that Saddam was deceived by his own people and used what he thought true to deceive others. In CIA parlance, it's called a "red-on-red deception" in which we are deceived by the deceit of the deceived.
One can imagine the difficulty of parsing through so many layers of deception to reveal a certain, unassailable truth, or how impossible to affix blame to a single individual or agency.
Here's what is certain as committees and investigative teams sort through the data: We can't afford to lose our focus on the long haul, to see Iraq through and thus at least hope to secure the future. It is reassuring that Bush, self-defined "war president" and commander-in-chief, is not confused on this point.