Bush, Obama differ on message delivery

Published 11:17 am Friday, December 5, 2008

It is far too soon to have even a glimpse of what the presidency of Barack Obama will look like in terms of the challenges that it will face and the innovations it may accomplish.

While pundits and bloggers seek to define this new president by his early cabinet appointments, time and events will define the presidency more than an analysis of the personalities and the anticipated conflicts between these strong people.

But it is certainly not too soon to comment upon the contrasting styles of our president, George Bush, and our president-elect, Barack Obama.

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The first and most obvious contrast to be noted is that of their distinctly different styles of public communication. President Bush always seems to be searching for words when he speaks, pausing often while we wait, not for an expansive descriptive, but for any word to form and be expelled. Frankly, it often looks as though the very speaking exercise is painful for the president.

In the last 60 days, other than one reflective interview, we have seen very little of President Bush in public, and when he has appeared it always looks as though he can only barely wait the finish his statement, so he can return to the presidential functions that keep him occupied.

In his more expansive interview he was asked about regrets, a topic he once handled poorly by being unable to think of any regrets in the heady days early in the Iraq war. But this time he said he regretted that he did not have better intelligence accuracy when considering the invasion of Iraq. It was an odd statement from the president.

This administration did distrust the Intel from the CIA and from most of the 16 U.S. Intel agencies. Their distrust was so great that the administration set up its own Intel group under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the Pentagon. This group sifted and sorted through the work of the 16, emphasized Intel that justified an Iraqi invasion, and dismissed Intel that rebutted an invasion.

In addition, this group elevated the value of Intel from Ahmad Chalabi, an Iraqi exile and dissident the CIA determined to be untrustworthy. As it turns out, the CIA was correct on Chalabi.

So when the president notes his concern over faulty Intel, is he referring to the Pentagon’s fake Intel under Douglas Feith and Donald Rumsfeld, or that he ignored the Intel from our conventional sources? For example, the CIA told the president that the yellow cake claims were unsubstantiated and should be deleted from an October 2002 speech in Cincinnati, and the statement was extracted. Yet that same statement somehow re-appeared in the 2003 State of the Union speech.

So which Intel does the president regret … his own false Intel, or the CIA’s accurate Intel?

In contrast to the Bush hesitations and still questionable candor, Barack Obama has spoken to the American people three times in this past week, and each time has spoken thoughtfully, expansively, and clearly. Obama never seems unable to find the exact terms or word, nor does he speak in a way that makes one wonder if the nuance is so fine as to suggest an altogether different meaning than might be taken from the expression.

I think the American people will come to value this thoughtful, informed approach to communicating the programs and problems of the nation.

We are not a people afraid of bad news. We just seek the truth.

President Bush seemed to think we could not handle the truth.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.