Today, the usually brilliant but always stimulating David Brooks has penned a NY Times op-ed that offers what Bush should have said to Tim Russert last Sunday in
"Bush on Bush, Take 2". Can’t say that I agree with but half of it, though it does clarify a key issue of the presidential campaign--Bush’s view of and approach toward global terrorism--and how Bush will have to remind voters of the connection between his policies (foreign and domestic) and his character.
I do not think Bush would be successful saying to the American people, as Brooks suggests, "I am a war president." Of course, we are at war, but the rhetoric the president uses to remind us of this fact need not be so blunt as to mislead the nation into thinking Bush is enamored of war-making. He will be more persuasive by November 2nd if he continues to defend our intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq (and points beyond, if necessary) as promoting our nation’s defense first and foremost, and only secondarily for its effect on making those nations and the world at large a freer place.
Aristotle teaches us that not only the force of logic or argument but also a speaker’s character and his audience’s disposition help or hinder his ability to persuade. The logic of Bush’s war against terrorism makes sense, but his rhetoric must accommodate the sentiments of the American people. Exit polls showing that Democrats rank terrorism as last on their list of concerns this election year say more about the Democratic candidates’ rhetoric than they do about what Americans really think about the grand scheme of things, foreign and domestic.
It will be Bush’s task to sketch this grand scheme of things that the Democrats so blithely take for granted: namely, that the world is a dangerous place, America is the main target of this threat, and therefore we cannot afford the luxury of allowing fairweather allies or a chimerical "world community" to determine if, when, and how to take the fight to our enemies. Domestic concerns (like the deficit) are important but can only be discussed responsibly in light of the pressing matter of national self-preservation.
Brooks and others on the Right are correct in pointing out the need for better speaking "off the cuff" from our president. As Lincoln once noted in a law lecture: "Extemporaneous speaking should be practised and cultivated. It is the lawyer’s avenue to the public. However able and faithful he may be in other respects, people are slow to bring him business if he cannot make a speech." The "business" of attracting votes is important enough for Bush not to neglect this facet of his job. The American people can be grateful that his principles and convictions are good and steadfast, but they will not vote accordingly if his impromptu remarks do not show this.