Editor’s note: Last week, via The Corner, we asked readers to send in questions to David Frum about his New York Times bestseller, The Right Man, the Bush White House, and other related topics. Today we run here a first round of responses to some of those questions. And, an apology: As David’s note below reflects, because of technical problems, this was posted a day later than planned. He is also travelling this week, so he will not be posting to his diary regularly. Do stay tuned, however, for an excerpt from The Right Man this week and a return to normal posting next week. –K.J.L.
Sorry to all–these questions & answers should have been posted yesterday in lieu of my regular diary. An email glitch delayed them–which is why there was no diary yesterday. My regrets for the interruption. We will do better! –D.F.
TO THE QUESTIONS…
Q: Bush’s approval rating has dropped (58 percent in one poll last week). Do you see the slide continuing (as it did with his father) or will his tax cut package bump him back up?
A: The slide seems to have stopped, less (I think) because of the specifics of the latest tax proposals than because Americans like to see their President taking action, whatever it is.
The real difference it seems to me between the approval ratings of Bush 41 and Bush 43 is that Bush 41’s sky-high numbers represented approval for his conduct of the Gulf War, not for him personally. Bush 43 on the other hand seems to have achieved in the days after 9/11 a personal connection with the American public. Some 60% or more of them seem to have decided they just trust him to do the right thing on the issues that matter most.
Bush 43’s poll numbers will continue to bump around as poll numbers do. But I think a substantial majority of Americans has made up their minds: this president is a man who understands them and their problems.
Q: Can you shed some light on the true relationship between Pres. Bush and Sec. of State Powell? In light of his open announcement of opposition to the administration’s U. of Michigan amicus brief, and the apparent continuing foot-dragging from his department over matters such as N.Korea, Iraq, and other issues, do you believe Mr. Powell will remain in the cabinet in a second Bush term?
A: Presidents often like to have opposing pairs of advisers around them: think of Reagan with James Baker and Ed Meese. Bush is no exception to this rule. And in fact you could say that administrations that succeed in stamping out internal debate are the ones headed for trouble: look at what happened to Bush 41 after John Sununu and Richard Darman succeeded in stamping out all internal dissent. I bet that Bush feels he benefits from the contrasting advice he gets from Rumsfeld and Powell. And who is to say he’s wrong? When Powell publicly – or semi-publicly – opposes the administration’s Iraq policy for months and months, and then (as he is doing this week) suddenly swings around and declares that he too is now convinced that military action is the only workable policy, does that not have the effect of dramatically strengthening the case for war?
Q: Perhaps you have seen several comments in the print media about Dr. Rice lately that suggests she is “overrated” and has less influence than what is commonly reported. Any comments?
A: The only people in Washington who ever tell the press that their influence is “over-rated” are the very, very, very powerful. Everybody else rounds up.
Q: Does the Bush White House revel in the fact that W is underestimated and does he himself take advantage of that fact?
A: The President and those around him are much more often exasperated by misunderestimation than they are pleased by it. Who wouldn’t be exasperated at hearing himself repeatedly mocked as a bumbling moron? And yet you are right: there have been advantages for the President in this persistent denigration – it makes the impact all the more powerful when he performs well.
Q: What do you believe President Bush’s thoughts are about today’s universities and their monolithic liberalism?
A: I tell a story in the RIGHT MAN about Bush asking one aide who seemed to know a lot about Yale whether he had attended the storied Ivy college. “No sir,” the aide said. “Didn’t miss much,” replied Bush.
Q: Was the president more likely to add references to God and religion to his public statements, or edit them out? For that matter, did he come across as being as religious in private as he is in public?
A: His religious references are often purely spontaneous. Remember what he was saying on that firetruck at Ground Zero before the workers shouted, “We can’t hear you”? It was, “This whole nation is down on its knees praying …” In private, Bush could often be more caustic than he is in public – but there was never a minute when any listener would doubt the deep sincerity of his religious faith.
Q: How do you answer those – mostly who get all their information from the NY Times, Ted Rall and Doonesbury – who maintain with religious fervor that Bush is a “dummy” and that Rove et al. are really running the show?
A: I hate to say it, but read my chapter, “Like a Fox,” which is all about the nature and strength of his intelligence.