A group of high school Presidential Scholars visiting the White House on Monday surprised President Bush by slipping him a handwritten letter pleading with him not to let America become known for torture and urging him to stick to the Geneva Conventions with terror detainees.
The president reassured the teenagers that the United States does not torture. Then the vice president unleashed a pack of large dogs on the kids, running them off the White House lawn, before he shut down the Presidential Scholars program and abolished high schools.
Since it's rare that Bush ever sees groups that have not been prescreened to be nice to him, he made the mistake of opening the letter in front of the students and was surprised to learn that he has made many Americans ashamed by subverting values that the country has always held dear, like abiding by the Constitution and respecting human dignity.
Mari Oye from Wellesley, Mass., who is headed to Yale in the fall, handed W. the letter signed by 50 students as they posed for a group picture. She told John Roberts on CNN that her mother had been a Presidential Scholar back in 1968 and always regretted not saying something to Lyndon Johnson about the Vietnam War. She also said her grandparents were Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II, so she has compassion for those "in a similar situation."
"We asked him to remove the signing statement attached to the anti-torture bill, which would have allowed presidential power to make exemptions to the ban on torture," she said. "I really feel strongly about this issue and also about the treatment of some Arab- and Muslim-Americans after Sept. 11th."
The president was trying to talk to the students about No Child Left Behind. Maybe that program's working better than we thought, if these kids are able to pull off such a knowing note left behind.
The White House got another unpleasant surprise Monday night when the ordinarily compliant Dick Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee who has gone along with the Bush administration on every Iraq vote, came to the floor of the Senate to sharply upbraid the president on his Iraq policy in a 50-minute speech.
"Those who offer constructive criticism of the surge strategy are not defeatists, any more than those who warn against a precipitous withdrawal are militarists," the 75-year-old senator told the deserted chamber.
Another Republican on the committee, George Voinovich, sent a letter to the president Tuesday, suggesting it's time to start pulling troops out. "My heart has been heavy for a long time," he told Jeff Zeleny of The New York Times. "We're talking $620 billion. We're talking over 3,500 people killed." He said he keeps a photo of an Ohio Marine who was killed in Iraq on his desk "so I don't forget, OK?"
Lugar said that because the '08 race has started, time is running out for a bipartisan solution.
Dick Cheney, the president of the Senate, immediately expelled Lugar and appointed himself the new Senator from Indiana. It was a busy day of Constitutional shape-shifting for the vice president, who had earlier nominated and confirmed himself to the Supreme Court, so that he could roll back judicial decisions tempering his desire for torture galore, and then morphed back into his executive branch role to bar the door to the Oval Office sandbox and prevent Condi and Bob Gates from giving W. the plan he wanted to close down Gitmo.
Once his BFF Rummy was pushed out, Vice mentally absorbed the role of Defense Secretary into his own portfolio. He allows Gates - that pragmatic meddler from the skeptical world of Daddy Bush - to keep Rummy's chair warm, but the new Pentagon chief is certainly not included in the super-secret paper flow Vice created to always get his own way. And Cheney never acknowledges the power of any secretary of state, be it Colin or Condi. Diplomacy is for wimps.
In essence, the bizarre response is that nothing applies to the vice president because the vice president is everything. Because he is everything, he relaunched the swift boats against John Kerry. ...
Maureen Dowd, a columnist for the New York Times, can be reached at: New York Times, editorial department, 229 W. 43rd St., New York, NY 10036.