- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2002

That other speech
Democratic pollster and strategist Mark Mellman says those who tuned out after President Bush's State of the Union speech Tuesday missed the good stuff.
According to a focus group of 50 "swing voters" he conducted in Denver for the Democratic National Committee, the president's speech scored OK, but the lesser-watched Democratic response, given by House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, scored better.
"I think it's fair to say that Leader Gephardt had at least as good a night, if not better, than President Bush did last night," he said.
He said the president did fine when talking about the war, but "there was not the kind of tremendous response one might expect." And the president's proposal for a Freedom Corps also didn't excite group members, many of whom felt they already did serve their communities.
Still, he said, the "big hole" in the speech was the economic portion: "They went in with one major question: What was Bush going to do on the economy? They left with that same question, and with that question unanswered."
Going into the speech, Mr. Mellman said, 24 percent of the group's members said they favored the president's economic plan. Afterward, 34 percent said they favored it. Most of the others said they were undecided or didn't know enough about it. Mr. Mellman said that was a poor showing, given that the president had just had a captive audience to make his pitch.
The Republican National Committee didn't do polling or focus groups on the speech, but Kevin Sheridan, an RNC spokesman, said every poll the group had seen recently looked good: "On every issue and on every front, the American people support the president and the direction he's taking the American people."
A CBS poll Tuesday night that found 85 percent of viewers approved of the president's speech, though a majority also thought the government wouldn't have the money to pay for the president's plans.
A USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll, meanwhile, that found 74 percent of those who saw some or all of the speech had a "very positive" reaction and 91 percent said the president's proposals would move the country in the right direction.

No time for bickering
Americans "sense they are in a war and recession simultaneously, but somehow feel better about the country than they did before the problems began," Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald F. Seib writes.
"There's no way to explain this anomaly except by crediting basic American resilience and the kind of resolve the nation shows in wartime. Politically speaking, that doesn't mean this will be a year without partisan debates. It does suggest that politicians will have to be more attuned to the limits on the public's appetite for bickering," Mr. Seib said.
"Unfortunately for Democrats, it means that President Bush, like any president in such a spot, is the unifying figure who will have the easier time defining for voters the line between honest debate and partisan jockeying."
Mr. Seib noted that 62 percent of respondents in the most recent Journal/NBC poll said the nation was on the right track, up 20 percent from June, and that the Consumer Confidence Index rose for a second straight month in January, meaning consumer expectations were at their highest levels in more than a year.
"The upshot is that the public's resolve to move ahead may force Washington to get at least a few things done this year on economic stimulus and, perhaps, on such topics as energy despite the temptation toward gridlock. 'The pressure will be so great on both parties here that that will move the process along,' says Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican. 'It will be gritty and it will be brutal.' War also is gritty and brutal, and Americans expect their leaders to adjust."

Jackson and Enron
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, in an interview on Tuesday with CNS-News.com reporter Marc Morano, said he had been a recipient of Enron Corp. contributions.
Mr. Jackston made the acknowledgement while accompanying a busload of former Enron employees to the District so they could complain to Congress about the loss of their retirement funds.
The bus trip was Mr. Jackson's idea. His "Journey to Justice" trip began at Enron headquarters in Houston and concluded Tuesday afternoon in the nation's capital.
During the interview with CNS-News.com, Mr. Jackson said of the Enron contributions to his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, "Whatever is was, it was minuscule." He said any contributions he received should not be returned because the funds are "irrelevant to the magnitude of this issue."
Mr. Jackson also said his finances were faltering and became irritated when asked if it was because he had lost "moral authority" during the past year, as some had charged.
Mr. Jackson met Monday with former Enron Chairman and Chief Executive Kenneth L. Lay in Houston and compared him to the biblical figure Job.
While criticizing the corporate meltdown that victimized Enron employees, Mr. Jackson declined to say anything negative about Mr. Lay and even prayed with the former chairman.

Unhappy employees
A video broadcast yesterday of an Enron staff meeting, held as the former energy giant began to unravel, showed its former Chairman and Chief Executive Kenneth L. Lay under fire from employees, one of whom demanded to know if he was on crack.
"I would like to know if you are on crack. If so, that would explain a lot. If not, you may want to start, because it's going to be a long time before we trust you again," was one written comment Mr. Lay read out at the meeting, held Oct. 23. "I think that's probably not a very happy employee and that's understandable," Mr. Lay said in response.
Enron, once the world's largest energy trader and a Wall Street darling, made the largest bankruptcy filing in American history on Dec. 2.
The staff meeting, aired Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show, happened just days after Enron reported its first quarterly loss in more than four years after taking charges of $1 billion on poorly performing businesses.
In the video, Mr. Lay, who last week quit as Enron's chairman and chief executive officer, apologized to his workers and promised to get back money they lost when the company's share price plummeted.
"Let me say right up front, I am absolutely heartbroken about what's happened both over the last few months and more importantly the last several days," he told glum-faced employees.
"Many of you, who were a lot wealthier six to nine months ago, are now concerned about college education for your kids, maybe the mortgage on your house, maybe your retirement and for that I am incredibly sorry. But we're going to get it back."

New Hampshire debate
The New Hampshire House of Representatives is scheduled to debate and vote on a resolution today in support of a national missile defense, but left-wing groups are working hard to defeat it, said Frank J. Gaffney Jr., president of the Center for Security Policy.
"I'm told that United Methodist Church is setting up a phone bank to foment oppostion," Mr. Gaffney told this column yesterday. Other groups also are trying to defeat the resolution, he added.
The resolution was adopted in committee earlier this month. Mr. Gaffney said he testified in favor of the resolution.

Cheney turns 61
Vice President Richard B. Cheney yesterday celebrated his 61st birthday by blowing out the candles on a cake while wife Lynne, President Bush and staffers watched.
Mr. Cheney said he was in good health and handed a large slice of birthday cake to Mr. Bush, Agence France-Presse reported.
"I love frosting," Mr. Bush quipped as he took the cake.
The vice president, who suffered from heart disease, was following a strict diet in recent months and declined to be seen taking a helping of cake himself.

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