Since its inception, the Bush administration has taken a different angle on the press and the public. While in the past other administrations have apologized, groveled and explained themselves over their failures, this one rarely admits even a procedural blunder and never has allowed that their policies are substantively flawed.
They discovered that this approach worked. If the public appeared on their side, they could snub and admonish an increasingly submissive and seemingly frightened press. The more tentative the press became in their reporting, the stronger the approval ratings flourished. And so a strange cycle of a mesmerized public and a reticent press began while an ill-conceived war decayed for years and the nation's standing abroad dwindled with it.
General after general retired and testified, yet there was no acknowledgment of mismanagement. The president secretly authorized unchecked domestic wiretapping and there was no comment regarding a classified program. The administration falsely testified to conceal the president's use of inaccurate information in his State of the Union address and there was no comment on an ongoing investigation.
Indeed, for the last five years, White House press conferences have shown a prostrated press - images of Scott McClellan or Tony Snow unflappably batting off questions, calling most inquiries "accusations" and ignoring their validity. Now the policy failures are so stark, refusing to acknowledge their existence doesn't appease the public. The press has gotten the courage to look under the lid of this administration and they find that it is rotten to the core.
President Bush, in his most recent State of the Union address, traded his defiant tone and neoconservative domestic agenda for an explanatory, imploring speech about his Iraq policy and the support of it. However it is clear that Vice President Cheney, his alleged aide, really does not care what the public thinks. Calling scrutiny of the administration "unpatriotic" and confusing heads of state with the state in the public mind has lost its effectiveness. Yet, as unaccustomed to having to explain himself as he is, the public finds him, in a time when they want answers, claiming that their desire for answers is the problem.
In an interview with Wolf Blitzer last week, he claimed that questioning the policy towards Iraq and the Middle East was the greatest threat to American security. Facing a press that will speak for the public, he finds himself castigating them for eagerly writing off the accomplishment of the war. In reality, though it took several years and the deaths of thousands of soldiers before the mainstream press began calling this tremendous failure a definitive problem.
In an interview with Fox News, of all sources, Cheney said that he didn't spend much time wondering about what the public or the media thought of him, he's "vice president and they are not." Until reporters were willing to ask hardline questions and publish their findings, it wasn't clear how low the public will ranked among his priorities. But now that the silence has broken, we learn that not only will Cheney lead a hell-bent charge into battle, dragging a reluctant public behind him, he will lead one with a reluctant president. While Bush admits we are trapped in sectarian war Cheney stands alone calling the war in Iraq a tremendous accomplishment.
Still employing the administration's tactic, neglecting the facts and asserting his own reality to the press, he is increasingly shown in the light of day as a man who will do what he wants regardless. But the corner has been turned. The public has woken up and his strange vexation at their concern for the state of the nation will not make their concern go away. And thankfully ,when a public figure forgets the public he is accountable to, short work can be made of him.