- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2001

President Bush doesn't like his new home.
No, not the palatial spread on Pennsylvania Avenue with 32 bathrooms and 28 fireplaces. The place where the house happens to be: Washington.
"Washington is not the fount of all knowledge," the president said last week as he sold his education plan in Columbus, Ohio.
"In Washington, people deal with trillions of dollars and sometimes can forget that every bit of it is someone's earnings," he said earlier this month when pushing his tax-cut proposal.
"Accounting in Washington is a little different than the way normal I shouldn't say 'normal' people the average person accounts," Mr. Bush said in his first formal news conference Friday. "This is a town where if you don't increase the budget by an expected number, it's considered a cut."
Unlike past Republican presidents who unsuccessfully courted the local liberal media in hopes of swaying opinion inside the Beltway Mr. Bush is making no secret of his disdain for Washington. The tactic, frowned upon by the media elite, plays well in the heartland, according to some with vast experience on the subject.
"It is impossible to change Washington from the inside unless you're on the left," Newt Gingrich told The Washington Times. The former Republican speaker of the House said, "There are about 200 people between New York and Washington who are, quote, 'the national media.' They talk to each other, they go to each others' cocktail parties and they voted about 85 or 88 percent in favor of [Al] Gore and [Bill] Clinton."
"They're very smart and they get to spend all day trying to find a way to trip you up and make you look bad," he said.
But Mr. Bush is showing he is adept at playing politics by taking his message around the country, hoping to make it resonate with Americans who will then demand that Washington listen, Mr. Gingrich said.
"What he's got to do, I think, is avoid getting trapped in the Washington media game of false expectations, where he inevitably loses. As long as he's prepared to be flexible but committed to the values he believes in, and he's willing to be friendly but nonetheless principled and those seem to be contradictions in Washington I think he'll do very well and the country will like him more and more."
"There is a White House press corps and you have to feed the beast. You can't really go around them," says Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution.
But that hasn't stopped Mr. Bush from doing just that. "He is not afraid of the establishment," Mr. Hess said.
The Bush White House has made it clear that selling the president's agenda to ordinary Americans is not a short-term ploy of the last month, but a long-term political strategy. After he talks to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, Mr. Bush will hit the road again on Wednesday and Thursday taking his message to Pittsburgh; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Little Rock, Ark.; and Atlanta.
This strategy was evident last week at an event in Townsend, Tenn., in which Mr. Bush made his case for his education plan and in the process resonated with local citizens.
"He's very engaging and when he talks, people listen," said Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican and a member of the Senate education committee. "He connects."
Targeting the media which polls show are disliked by Americans outside the Beltway is not altogether bad, even in a city that boasts perhaps the most journalists in the world. Mr. Bush has made no secret of his dislike for some members of the media, at one point during the campaign calling a New York Times reporter a "major league asshole."
Mr. Bush has done an end-run around the media by giving interviews to local media, sitting down on Feb. 5 to talk with journalists from the Albuquerque Journal, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Portland Oregonian, Dallas Morning News, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"The president is traveling around the country because he has an important message for all Americans," said Tucker Eskew, director of the White House media affairs office. "That is a message not for the Beltway's consumption exclusively. It is for working Americans."
After nearly every major announcement, the president has taken to the road to deliver his message to Americans in out-of-the-way spots, including the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.
"This is a plan that requires the people to speak up. It's the beginning of trips around our great nation where I'm going to make my case, not to the folks in Congress or in Washington, D.C., but to the American people," Mr. Bush said last week during an event at a St. Louis, Mo., elementary school to pitch his tax relief plan.
At all of his stops, the local media descend on the event site, running stories nonstop throughout the day and carrying his motorcade in one case a 30-minute ride live. Local newspapers including some in the state but also from hundreds of miles away play the story on the front page.
During Mr. Bush's most recent trips, The Washington Post and the New York Times buried the stories inside their papers.
"You go to Knoxville, there's local media, but it reaches into Chattanooga, which doesn't just cover southeast Tennessee but reaches into Georgia," Mr. Eskew said. "You reach a lot of people, you reach them where they live."
Mr. Gingrich said the president's technique is working.
"The Democrats on taxes now are at $900 billion when Clinton last year vetoed $800 billion as too much. So the debate's already moving in his direction," he said.
And while some in the Washington media grumble about their lack of access to the president and the disciplined, "stay-on-message" single-mindedness of Bush officials, Mr. Bush knows he needs the American people behind his agenda especially if he hopes to be re-elected.
"I think Bush is a very long-term player. I don't think he has any sense of having to shine every week. Clinton had the disadvantage of being in the media so much that people got tired of it, it lost its effectiveness," Mr. Gingrich said.
Either way, don't look for Mr. Bush to court the liberal media too much, Mr. Gingrich said.
"He has zero expectations of the New York Times or The Washington Post editorial page endorsing most of his policies. But he has every expectation that they'll be less vitriolic and less vicious in opposition. And I think that's working so far."

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