Covering President Bush
Last week, I covered President Bush at the National Restaurant Association’s Hotel Motel Show. As a restaurant reporter, I was surprised he chose this venue to speak about the War on Terror more than immigration reform. But as a veteran, I had butterflies in my stomach as he thanked servicemen and women countless times during his very long speech.
I sat in press section, where I was expected to have a stone face and no personality. Reporters are supposed to be objective! (Sidebar: Once I covered my beloved OSU Cowboys and I cheered when they scored a touchdown. The veteran journalists gave me dirty looks.) Needless to say, I found myself clapping along with the crowd and laughing at his jokes. (Seriously, such actions would get AP reporters fired.) But I couldn’t help it.
“President, I’m from Florida and I have to tell you that your brother does a great job for the restaurant community,” a woman said before the president interrupted her.
“Well, he does like to eat, I can tell you that,” Bush said.
Then a man in chef’s attire approached the microphone. Before the chef could say a word, the president said “I bet you’re a chef aren’t you? Want to know how I know?”
He was energetic and talked about issues I had never heard of. Although the audience, primarily restaurant owners, overwhelmingly favored Bush, not all people asked soft-ball questions. When asked, “Is there a realistic, yet aggressive timetable and strategy to get our reliance off of Middle East oil and go to a different fuel source, or ways that the United States can prosper?”
The president responded, “As soon as possible.” He also explained the current plan to move to alternative fuels. He said the United States is making good progress in creating ethanol fuels.
“If you really think about, for example, the penetration of ethanol in the Midwest, it's been amazing over the last couple of years. Indiana people, you're beginning to get E85 pumps. E85 means 85 percent of the fuel you buy at an E85 pump is ethanol. We've put tax incentives in place to encourage the construction of ethanol refineries, and they're beginning to grow quite dramatically.”
Bush talked about flex-fuel vehicles – a term I had never heard of – and said, “There are 5 million automobiles on the road today that are flex-fuel vehicles. In other words, they can use ethanol and/or gasoline, or a combination of both. So the technologies to make our automobiles ethanol-compatible are around. As a matter of fact, you may have a flex-fuel vehicle and just don't know it.”
And Bush seemed to recognize that the Green Peace types want 100 percent ethanol fuels, but “Do we have enough feedstock into the ethanol business to be able to really get major penetration? And that's where we're spending some money. Because we got corn, but sometimes you got to eat corn. And sometimes your pigs and cows have got to eat corn.”
When he said, “Pigs and cows have got to eat corn,” I thought I was going to get kicked off the press stage or the Secret Service was about to club me. He is a genuinely funny man even if you don’t like him.
Last week, I saw a side of the president America rarely sees. Sure he stuttered. I never said he was a great speaker. But he cares about America, and he especially cares about soldiers. He compared the War on Terror to World War I and World War II, two wars that brought democracy to countries.
“Today, after nearly a century of violence and death and destruction, Europe is whole, free, and at peace. And it's important for America to ask the question, why is that the case? Well, democracies don't war with each other, and democracies have taken hold in Europe,” he said.
He then talked about his father fighting Japan in World War II.
“The Japanese. Prime Minister Koizumi is coming to our country soon,” Bush emphasized. “I'll be sitting down to the table with a friend talking about issues like North Korea, or thanking him for having 1,000 troops in Iraq, or worrying about the spread of pandemic disease, or talking about how we can help the young democracy, Afghanistan. And I find it amazing that the President of the United States is sitting down talking about peace with the head of a country that my dad went to war with, and your dads and grandads went to war with.”
Today, the president announced a new bill that will restrict protesters from military funerals. Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act, HR 5037, will not stop the protests, but it will restrict under federal law how far away protestors can gather from cemetery access points. I’m sure some people will say that this bill contradicts First Amendment rights. But I say it’s an outstanding law that should have been passed decades ago. And it gives fallen heroes a chance to be remembered without hearing political discussions.
Thank you, Mr. President.