In addition to what a president does or doesn't say in televised press conference or in an address to the nation, the No. 1 exercise following such an appearance often is to try to asses how effective the president was in his presentation.
Unfortunately, the physical appearance of the president -- his hairstyle, the tie he wears and his delivery -- seem to be more important to a high percentage of viewers than what the man actually said.
This certainly is the case with President Bush. He is not an effective communicator. In fact, many times, he appears dull and uninspiring. His messages are well written and make a lot of common sense, but he has trouble exciting his audiences.
Last week's press conference offered a good example.
Bush spent the first 15 minutes or so stating his case for the administration's position on Iraq and the war on terrorism. What he said made sense, but the way he delivered his message didn't resonate with the media or the public. He did far better, showed much more passion and commitment, in the question-and-answer period, but most of the reporters' questions took a critical or fault-finding mode rather than being posed in a neutral, balanced manner.
Bush's address was an important event for the president because the public has growing questions and concerns about what is going on in Iraq, the president's position on the war, growing casualties, how the war is affecting Bush's re-election bid, the proposed June 30 turnover of authority in Iraq and who knew what and when prior to the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
He had a chance to communicate a sound, reassuring message to a news-hungry audience, but he failed to deliver as well as his supporters had hoped. It would be interesting to have seen how former Presidents Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, both of whom had a special ability to connect with the public, would have communicated such a message.
There is no question that this country is engaged in a vicious war, one we cannot afford to lose. Saddam Hussein was a terrible and brutal leader. Osama bin Laden introduced the world to a new level of deadly terrorism that is likely to be with us for years.
Even if Bush's battle against terrorism should result in lower public approval ratings here in the United States or even cost him the 2004 presidential election, striking a successful, damaging blow against global terrorism and those engaged in such brutality is in the best long-range interests of the nation.
Not necessarily to strengthen his chances for re-election, but rather because of the importance of his mission, it is hoped Bush and his close advisers -- those in his inner circle and those who write the speeches -- can combine their skills to help the president better connect with the public and convey the seriousness of the terrorist threat. It cannot be overstated.
Any signal of weakness or a lack of resolve merely feeds the hopes and dreams of those engaged in terrorism and those who hate what Uncle Sam stands for.