Under the klieg lights of a prime-time press conference, George
W. Bush once famously could not recall any mistakes he had made as
president. To his critics, the April 2004 moment cemented the notion
that he is unreflective about his policies, an immovable object in
the face of facts.
The reality, however, is different - as demonstrated by a wave of
developments. Most striking has been his series of speeches on Iraq
in the run-up to Thursday's elections there, culminating in
Wednesday's fourth and final address. The M-word - mistake - is
still not a part of his vocabulary, but the word "adjust" is, and is
now sprinkled throughout his speeches.
"We listened, and we adjusted our approach," he said in one
example Monday, explaining how the plan for transition to Iraqi self-
government was forged.
Throughout Washington there are other signs of course correction:
In the 2002 No Child Left Behind education reform, whose
requirements for progress have created anxiety in some states and
cities, certain types of waivers are now allowed. On the hotly
debated question of torture policy, which at press time remained in
flux, the Bush administration has backed away from a veto threat
over an amendment to restrict techniques used by Americans during
interrogations. Social Security reform and an overhaul of the tax
system have been set aside for now.
"The administration knows how to respond to political pressure
with the flexibility of an Olympic gymnast," says Marshall Wittmann,
a former Republican strategist and now a fellow at the Democratic
Leadership Council. "You've seen it on a number of things - No Child
Left Behind, prescription drugs, homeland security."
At times, the larger principles remain firm - such as pressing
ahead in Iraq, or pushing for improved educational performance -
while the details change. In other instances, there is a wholesale
course correction. When it became clear that Harriet Miers's
nomination to the Supreme Court was damaging the president's support
among his political base, she was summarily dropped. Ditto Bernard
Kerik, when his nomination to run the Department of Homeland
Security ran into a buzz saw of multiple ethical allegations.
Some of Bush's former positions even seem hard to believe - such
as his opposition to the establishment of a department of homeland
security, a 9/11 commission, and a new Medicare entitlement
providing prescription drugs for seniors. …