Bush's Appeasement Comments

The White House has wavered on whether President Bush's remarks about "appeasement of terrorists" were aimed at Barack Obama. Which is it? News analyst Juan Williams talks with Alex Chadwick about news from the week in politics.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand. In a few minutes a preview of this weekend's new movies.

CHADWICK: First, NPR News analyst Juan Williams. Juan, here's a voice in the political debates this week.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals.

CHADWICK: That's President Bush, of course speaking in Israel on his visit there, and he went on to the experience of World War II and Hitler.

President BUSH: We have an obligation to call this what it is. The false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

(Soundbite of applause)

CHADWICK: But Juan, it's current events that resonate here. Iran, and Senator Obama saying that he would talk with hostile leaders. Isn't that really what Mr. Bush is saying here, and didn't the White House kind of both confirm that, and then denied that?

JUAN WILLIAMS: Well, they did confirm it. It's interesting though, the response from the White House, and from conservatives around Washington this week, was the president didn't mention any names. What are these Democrats so excited about?

It must be that they have guilty consciences, and they see their faces written large across the president's words, and of course Barack Obama, famously said in a debate with Hillary Clinton, that he would talk to people that had been previously treated as America's enemies. But I don't think there's any doubt, that he was taking a political swipe at Senator Obama.

And what really strikes me, is that you have a sense here of the question being, what would Senator Obama have to say to people in Hamas, or people in Iran. The counter-argument coming from the Obama campaign is, well, we have to engage.

CHADWICK: But Mr. Bush has been very clear in saying, he doesn't want to get involved in the political campaign at all. He's turned away reporters' questions repeatedly at press conferences, saying that they're just edging into the political debate. Do you think he's asserting perhaps now, that he will have some kind of role in the fall campaign?

WILLIAMS: Well, as Senator Obama could only hope, Alex. He would love to run against George W. Bush, a man with such low ratings. Even Senator McCain is running against President Bush, if you stop and think about it. I mean, on the war, on - he said, you know, let's have a time to get out now.

Global warming, on Hurricane Katrina, talking with Congress. I think everybody is running against President Bush. So, I think his role will be slight and very tactful, if you will, and this is an example of it.

CHADWICK: We spoke earlier in the program about this ruling by the California State Supreme Court, overturning the state's ban on gay marriage. Is this now going to be an issue in the fall campaign, gay marriage again?

WILLIAMS: I'm not sure. But I think that it picks up on something that is going to be an issue in the campaign, which is McCain making the charge that Senator Obama is out of touch. And by that extension, you would argue that, oh, look at what the California Supreme Court has done. And if you think back to '04, after the Massachusetts' Supreme Court allowed gay marriage in that state, President Bush used it to his advantage, and especially in battleground mid-western states.

Right now, that issue, according to Pew polling, is important, or very important to about 43 percent of American voters. Forty-three percent is pretty high. The problem for McCain, unlike Bush, is that McCain has been opposed to a constitutional amendment, banning same-sex marriage. That puts him in odds with some conservatives.

And it makes him a dubious carrier for the message, you know, flying the banner of opposition to gay marriage. He's someone who says that same-sex couples should have all the same rights. But that's the same message that comes from Barack Obama.

CHADWICK: I do see that Senator Obama is picking up more delegates. He picked up some delegates from Senator Edwards this week. He's getting closer. I think he's only about 130 delegates away, from that number of 2026 that he would need to secure the nomination.

WILLIAMS: You're right. I think we are getting closer, but I - what was really telling to me as an indicator of this, Alex, is watching a little TV and seeing the latest Obama ads in which he's got, you know, a picture of himself with a huge cross. He's talking about what a patriot he is.

And large - the measure in response to the fact that the big advantage that Senator McCain holds over Senator Obama going forward, is that Americans see Senator McCain as better able to protect the country, while Obama holds a lead of course on issues like healthcare, and gasoline prices, and the economy.

So, yes, I think that we are closer to the general election, and I think you're going to see fewer and fewer mentions. Already we're seeing few mentions of Senator Clinton in any of Senator Obama's speeches, and of course Senator McCain and President Bush are aiming their fire at Senator Obama.

CHADWICK: NPR News analyst Juan Williams will be following that campaign with you. Thanks, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Alex.

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