President George W. Bush was strong and in good spirits as he met this morning with a small group of journalists for about 90 minutes in the Oval Office. Topics across the board were discussed. As always in these meetings, some of the juiciest stuff is off the record. Too bad, because the president has an awful lot of important things to say on so many of these issues. But ground rules are ground rules. I hope I don’t get into trouble by mentioning a few economic points that came up.
First, the president will continue his strong push on energy deregulation to open up the offshore outer continental shelf, ANWR, and the shale fields. When asked if he would revoke the executive order moratorium on drilling, he said he was thinking about it. When asked whether he would give a prime-time nationally televised speech on the subject, he said he would think about that too.
He made it clear that the root cause of high gas pump prices and the $140 barrel price of oil is a lack of supply. He said we’re in a transition period from hydrocarbons to alternative technologies, but that drilling for more oil and gas is essential at this stage. He said taxing oil companies will not create any new supply. He also asserted that the marketplace works more effectively than a variety of new regulations.
When asked about the dollar, the president stated clearly that he is for a strong dollar. But he hinted that the non-intervention policy would remain in place. Instead of intervention, he felt that free-trade policies to open markets and expedite the free transfer of capital would send positive signals that would strengthen the currency. He said the Columbia free-trade debate in Congress has undermined the dollar, and he continues to believe that passage of Columbia free trade is a “no-brainer.”
He also believes the European banks have done far less to repair their balance sheets than the American banks. And he hinted that our financial and economic position is stronger than Europe’s, another factor working to strengthen the value of the dollar.
Toward the end of the session he talked in very clear terms about the need to maintain his policy regarding the spread of freedom worldwide and what he called the “universality” of freedom. He quoted from Lincoln that “all men are created equal under God.” He pointed out that there’s a picture of President Lincoln on the wall of the Oval Office. I would add that there’s also a sculpted bust of Lincoln, another bust of Winston Churchill, and a magisterial portrait of George Washington.
Mr. Bush reiterated what he has said in a number of these meetings, that in the office of the president, character matters a lot. He said you have to have clear principles and strong beliefs to execute all the responsibilities that are part of the job.
I’m gonna leave it to others to talk about some of the foreign-policy issues that came up. But I would say as someone who has been privileged to attend these gatherings in the past, not only did the president show the inner strength he always has, but when he does reflect on the tumultuous events of his tenure, he is completely at peace with himself and his decisions.