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Bush No Longer A 'Stay The Course' Guy

This commentary was written by's Dick Meyer.

It's official: the Bush administration's "stay the course" was a figment of the American imagination. Never happened. Wasn't our position. Never said it. Wasn't me.

President Bush hinted that he was aware the country was hearing voices on the occasion of his Oct. 11 news conference.

"The characterization of, you know, 'It's 'stay the course' is about a quarter right," he said. " 'Stay the course' means keep doing what you're doing. My attitude is: Don't do what you're doing if it's not working — change. 'Stay the course' also means don't leave before the job is done."


The official declaration that "stay the course" never happened came two weeks later. "Listen, we've never been 'stay the course,' George," the president told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. "We have been — we will complete the mission, we will do our job and help achieve the goal, but we're constantly adjusting the tactics. Constantly."

"Listen, we've never been 'stay the course' ..."

The official Minister of Truth, Tony Snow, codified this latest bit of Bush doctrine the next day.

"So what you have is not 'stay the course,' but, in fact, a study in constant motion by the administration and by the Iraqi government, and, frankly, also by the enemy, because there are constant shifts, and you constantly have to adjust to what the other side is doing … That is not a 'stay the course' policy."

Got it? "Stay the course" = constant motion. Simple. It's as simple as knowing what the meaning of "is" is.

So, when President Bush said in most of his public appearances over the past year or so that America needed to "stay the course" in Iraq, he didn't mean that America needed to "stay the course" in Iraq. In no way was he supporting a "stay the course" policy.

So it must follow that when the president accused the Democrats of wanting to "cut and run" in Iraq, he was not accusing the Democrats of wanting to "cut and run" in Iraq. He must have meant something very different.

And I'm sure Minister Snow will tell us exactly what "cut and run" really means when the administration's next Language and Reality Edict is ready.

This stuff gives doublespeak a bad name.

For three years, President Bush has labeled any worry and criticism about the war in Iraq as cowardly, irresponsible "cut and run" thinking and declared his resolve to "stay the course." That political rhetoric was effective for a long time. But as the political campaign heated up this year, things changed.

The most effective and common type of Democratic advertising has shown bloody pictures, body counts and ominous music over sound bites of the president saying "stay the course" and the candidate saying, no, we need a new course, a new direction.

"Stay the course" became a negative that implied an ostrich-like imperviousness to reality. But the president and his marketing team didn't just dump the slogan; they denied the slogan ever existed.

Because not staying the course with "stay the course" would mean you're a cut-and-runner. Americans aren't cut-and-run guys. Cut-and-run guys aren't resolve guys and the president is a resolve guy.

The audaciousness of this is offensive. Actually, it's insulting.

"Listen, we've never been 'stay the course' ..."


It now appears that the electorate has been insulted enough to cut and run on the president.

It's not that we're cut-and-run guys, Mr. President. You just haven't been straight with us.

Dick Meyer is the editorial director of, based in Washington.

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By Dick Meyer