Allan Lichtman: Bush's Press Conference Showed a Man in Full Evangelical Fervor

Roundup: Historians' Take

From CTV News (April 14, 2004):

When you understand U.S. President George W. Bush's "muscular evangelism," you understand his news conference Tuesday night, says a U.S. historian.

"This was an evangelist with machine guns, a combination of Teddy Roosevelt's triumphalism with Jerry Falwell's moralism," Allan J. Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University, told Canada AM.

For example, Bush was asked by journalists if he could think of any mistakes he made in his campaign against Iraq. He didn't admit to any, but followed that up with: "I don't want to sound like I've made no mistakes; I'm confident I have."

Lichtman interpreted that as follows: "Of course you can't apologize. Of course you can't admit you made a mistake because you're on a fundamental moral mission."

Bush does see his job in Iraq as bringing Western-style democracy there and seeing it spread through the Middle East and the entire world, he said.

Most details questions were put off by Bush, which Lichtman attributed to the president's managerial style: he wants to focus on the evangelization.

In recent days, the Iraq war's opponents have been raised the comparison to Vietnam.

"I think the analogy is false," Bush said. "I think the analogy sends the wrong message to our troops and sends the wrong message to your enemies. This is hard work."

But the president didn't say why the analogy was false, and it brought back memories of the embattled Lyndon Johnson, who said those who opposed the Vietnam war were giving aid and comfort to the enemy, Lichtman said.

The U.S. became fully embroiled in Vietnam during Johnson's presidency, which ran from 1964 to 1968. He announced in early 1968 he wouldn't be seeking re-election. Bush is seeking re-election.

"I don't plan on losing my job," Bush said in response to a reporter's question. "I plan on telling the American people that I've got a plan to win the war on terror and I believe they'll stay with me. They understand the stakes."

One milestone in Iraq is the transfer of political sovereignty back to the Iraqis on June 30.

Lichtman said the Bush administration is too committed to that date to delay the handover, even if Iraq might not be ready for it.

"One of the truly candid moments, I thought, was when the president said, 'look, I understand why people don't like being occupied,'" he said.

Bush seems to realize that no one -- the Iraqis, Americans nor the world -- will stand for an indefinite U.S. occupation, he said.

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