Get Off The Bus, Already

Like a bunch of school kids on a field trip, the White House Press Corps hit the heartland yesterday accompanying George Bush on his two-day “Yes America Can” tour. By the breathless tenor of the prose, you’d think the poor Beltway Scribes hadn’t been outta town much recently.

First, the descriptions of the Bush Bus, courtesy of USA Today’s Richard Benedetto and Judy Keen. “His splashy retinue guaranteed attention. He rode in a customized 45-foot bus with a red-and-white swoosh across the blue body, ”Bush-Cheney ‘04” and ”Yes, America Can” on its sides,” the pair wrote. “Behind him were seven more buses, Secret Service vehicles and Michigan State Police cruisers. Freeway ramps and side streets were closed briefly by troopers on motorcycles while the mega-motorcade rolled across the countryside.”

The Washington Post’s Mike Allen offered this detail: “Bush left Air Force One behind after landing in Indiana at lunchtime on Monday. He was driven 225 miles through rural and suburban Michigan in a motor coach, past the Tasty Twist in Cassopolis and Hoppy’s Yard and Garden in Schoolcraft, with flag-waving fans lining the streets of town after town. Inside, the bus was swank, complete with flat-screen televisions, a kitchenette and leather captain’s chairs. His entourage included seven other buses for staff, Secret Service and journalists.”

For all the glitz, however, Allen reminds readers, “the trip amounted to a repackaging of Bush’s campaign at a time when his record spending on advertising failed to give him a clear lead.” This “retail politicking” had Bush dressed in a “workman-like shirt” yesterday in Niles, Michigan, and flipping pancakes this morning in Maumee, Ohio.

And in the category of no-detail-too-small to include, USA Today provides this exchange at a Q&A in the Niles High School gym between the president and a hand-picked audience: “Philip Hegg, who owns an executive recruiting company in St. Joseph, Mich., told Bush that he promised his daughter a trip to Disney World if she `learned to use the potty correctly.’ Thanks to savings from Bush’s tax cuts, Hegg said, the family took the vacation this year. `That’s great,’ Bush said.” (We predict the poor kid will never live this one down - learning to go potty for a tax refund.)

Fortunately, The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Gregory Korte retained his cool under the intense hype and hoopla, delivering a thoughtful advance story on the president’s arrival later today in Cincinnati, a place where foreign policy, not jobs, is the number-one issue on voters’ minds.

Korte offers up ample context, noting that in an October 2002 speech in Cincinnati, Bush declared that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, a claim used as a justification for war and later discredited. A local soldier remains the only confirmed hostage still held by Iraqi guerillas. And, the region also has a high number of reservists on duty in Iraq.

Korte seems to know his audience, and what they care about - which is life-and-death policy, not leather bus seats or flat-screen Tvs.

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.