In addition to his exploration of world affairs, the president also spoke about gas prices in the US (lamenting the fact that he's much easier to blame when they go up than to credit when they go down), the ongoing religious revival, or awakening, and the upcoming Congressional elections (about which he maintains complete confidence, despite "stupid moves" by a few speicific Republican candidates which he discussed). Asked about the possibility of immigration reform before the election, he expressed passionate concern for establishing better security at the border, but indicated an unwillingness to change his "core principles." He made the important point that if he abandoned his well-known commitments on this or other domestic issues, the nation's enemies (and the rest of the world) would take away the belief that the President could be bullied, prodded, overwhelmed and initimidated -- harming the war effort for which young Americans risk their lives. He deeply believes in the importance of resolution, determination, and consistency in world affairs-- and emphasized several times that he refuses to govern according to trends, polls, or public opinion.
There's nothing grim about this commitment to remain unbending and unafraid in pursuit of his purposes. This President doesn't grit his teeth, or feel beleaguered or forlorn over low opinion ratings, or the angry demonstrators who wait outside the White House fence every day. When I visited the executive mansion, one protestor dressed as the grim reapear, in a black robe with a skeleton mask and scythe, carrying a sign thanking President Bush for the help. Others deployed larger-than-life puppets of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, dressed in striped prison suits, with manacles on their legs. I looked for some angry demonstators carrying signs equating the President to Hitler; they weren't there this trip, but I've seen them before, and so has Mr. Bush. In view of the poisonous nature of the opposition to his leadership, one might expect the President to sink into a self-pitying, paranoid funk, like so many of his predecessors (Wilson, Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, Carter) who faced a hostile public during the last years or their terms.
This President, however, feels in no way cowed or discouraged or overwhemed, and that's the most encouraging lesson I took away from my hour-and-a-half in the Oval Office. He looks and sounds energized, and said several times how much he enjoys the Presidency, likes making decisions, and remembers what a privilege and an honor it is to be where he is. He even indicated a determination to go back to an effort to save Social Security after the election --- despite the crushing opposition the last time he tried to perform this public service. The President clearly loves his job and relishes the opportunities it affords him to change the country. He doesn't feel sorry for himself, and with his savvy resolution to make the most of the two years remaining to him after the mid-term elections, he doesn't want anybody else's pity.
And one more thing: twice during his meandering conversation, the President deployed the word "nuclear." Both times, he pronounced it flawlessly --- as "new- clee-ar," not "nuke-cule-ar." Considering the huge press attention on the mis-pronounciation of this single word, nothing shocked me more about meeting the president than hearing him, in private conservation, avoid a mistake for which he's become celebrated in public.
If he can say "nu-clee-ar" in private, why does he still say, "nuke-cule-ar" when he speaks on camera? Could it be possible that there's some mischievous intent here-- that the President deliberately gives his own spin to the word just to provoke pompous pundits into paroxysms of supercilious rage? It seems like a far-fetched explanation, I'll admit, but after seeing the President's infectiously feisty mood this Friday, I wouldn't put it past him.