INSIDE THE BELTWAY: Although Bush gets a C on his Acheson book report, the GOP probably won’t pick McCain

Bush’s performance in two GOP candidate ’debates’ in the past month has turned the presidential race upside-down - or at least guaranteed a real contest. The overall impression, shared by both parties - one with undisguised glee, the other with barely disguised gloom - is that the overwhelming frontrunner is simply ’not ready for prime time.’

Bush’s performance in two GOP candidate ’debates’ in the past month has turned the presidential race upside-down - or at least guaranteed a real contest. The overall impression, shared by both parties - one with undisguised glee, the other with barely disguised gloom - is that the overwhelming frontrunner is simply ’not ready for prime time.’

Bush’s performance in two GOP candidate ’debates’ in the past month

has turned the presidential race upside-down - or at least guaranteed a

real contest. The overall impression, shared by both parties - one with

undisguised glee, the other with barely disguised gloom - is that the

overwhelming frontrunner is simply ’not ready for prime time.’



Americans have seen enough live interviews, from dutiful White House

correspondents anxious only to be noticed by their hometown editors, all

the way to the insensitive bully who ambushed Pete Rose, to know when a

prominent news figure - especially a serious Presidential candidate - is

ducking a question by going to a prearranged memorized paragraph from

the stump speech. Sometimes it works in a debate, but more often than

not, it just points up the non-answer.



George W. Bush contributed a few of these in the first debate, reminding

us how he had been Governor of Texas and a friend of education, no

matter what the question. Then came the question many reporters had been

waiting to ask: ’What books are you reading?’ Bush responded quickly

that he was reading a biography of former Secretary of State Dean

Acheson. No further questions.



But not for long. At the next debate, the Acheson book surfaced again -

’What did you learn from the book?’ Poor George, who should have had an

extensive briefing about Acheson, a key figure in US foreign policy at

mid-century, could only recite some formulaic paragraphs about strength

and standing tall.



Worse, he later defended his answer by saying, ’In a one-minute answer,

it’s hard to give a complete book report.’ Now, it’s only high school

and college students who use the term ’book report.’ Presidential

candidates give their opinion of a book, they form judgments about

books, they may even agree or take issue with a book review; someone who

still talks of ’book reports’ hasn’t read books seriously, if at all,

since his days as a student.



But political observers think the Republican Party will not let Bush

disappear. First of all, there is a huge investment to protect, and the

alternative is only John McCain, and members of the GOP establishment

don’t just dislike McCain - they hate him.



McCain’s position on campaign finance reform, mainly his support for a

ban on soft money, is a dagger pointed at the core of special interests,

both left and right, but the right has more at risk.



Democrats take heart in all this. ’Keep Bush afloat,’ they are secretly

urging their opposite numbers, on the theory he is now increasingly

easier to beat than McCain.



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