The Back Page

Where's Dubya?

With $6 million already counted, George W. is a would-be presidential candidate so cocksure of his frontrunner’s position that he’s holding press conferences and photo-ops he doesn’t even bother to attend.

These are not the “virtual press conferences” Bush earlier suggested might occur, when he faced down a tough question put to him by Austin TV reporter Walt Maciborski (“Governor, are you going to use the Internet?”). These are, rather, Bush supporters flown in from out of state, served lunch at the Mansion, and herded into the south garden to endorse the yet-unofficial presidential candidacy of George W. Bush – while the Governor himself is nowhere to be seen.

As might be expected, these campaign events are not exactly newsworthy. Yet we show up to ask an obligatory question or two, as the endorsers try to explain why they have flown in from New York, or Washington, or in this particular case, Pennsylvania, to endorse George Bush. And the endorsers work hard. After all, it’s not easy to create news where there is none – in particular while two hundred yards northeast of the Governor’s Mansion, House Democrats are digging in to attempt to stop George W. from keeping 200,000 low-income children from qualifying for low-cost health insurance, and while a group of pro-business Democrats and Republicans are working to protect the state’s 1,000 grandfathered industrial plants from compliance with the Clean Air Act.

So hyperbole and generality is de rigueur here at the Manse. Consider Alan Novak, who led the delegation of Pennsylvania Republicans flown in for a March 31 lunch with Governor Bush – and the requisite endorsement event in the south garden.

“We’ve just come from a meeting with Governor Bush! And let me tell you that we’re here to ask Texas to share him with America! The Republican Party needs Governor Bush! The country needs Governor Bush! [Exclamation marks added!] And as I see it, the two Bush brothers with their fifty-seven electoral votes and the twenty-three Pennsylvania can add – we’re already a third of the way there.”

Novak droned on, about “Governor Bush and his record … a governor who cares about people, who connects with people, and who is concentrating on what Americans care about most.…” He threw in “a good public education for every child,” and a “vibrant job atmosphere,” and “an American quality of life that is better so that no one is left behind.” And on and on and on.

A reporter asked Novak about the Governor’s positions on “abortion, the economy, Medicare, Social Security, foreign policy, military defense spending.” “He gave us some clear pictures and answered some pretty direct questions today,” Novak responded. Asked what specific policies he could point to, Novak said: “All the above. Every one he just mentioned in the previous question.”

And therein lies the brilliance of the event. Repeatedly accused of refusing to answer specific questions about public policy, the Guv has now brought in surrogates who refuse to answer the same questions.

“Where’s the Governor?” a tourist at the back gate asked, as a state trooper waved the reporters out. “That,” The Back Page pondered, “is not an easy question to answer.”

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Published at 12:00 am CST