Bush: "Nobody's Accused Me Of Being Shakespeare"

Mark Knoller is a White House Correspondent for CBS News.
The late night comedy shows ought to put President Bush on the payroll. He makes it too easy for them.

In Cleveland this afternoon, Mr. Bush was answering an audience question about government preparedness for such natural disasters as a pandemic flu. And he had a bit of trouble making his point – starting with his reference to two of his Cabinet officers.

"I asked Mike Leavitt, who's the head of D.D. – uh – H.H.S., said the President, referring to his Health and Human Services chief.

"And Chertoff – he's the homeland guy."

The homeland guy?

The audience snickered at Mr. Bush's shorthand – so he elaborated.

"Department of Homeland Security," he said – but the undercurrent of laughter continued.

Determined to show he knew Michael Chertoff's title, the President stated it.

"Secretary of Homeland Security!" Even Mr. Bush chuckled, blaming his casual approach to such things on his hometown.

"In Crawford, we kind of shortcut it," he said.

And then, as the polite laughter continued, he offered up the presidential quote of the day:

"Look – nobody's accused me of being Shakespeare, you know?"

We know.

As the laughter died out, he offered what amounts to his philosophy of communications.

"I just hope you can figure out what I'm saying."

Those of us in journalism often hope the same thing.

It should be pointed out, that the president's momentary loss of focus came during a town hall meeting in which he spoke extemporaneously – with microphone in hand - for 34 minutes and then took questions for another 46.

The headline from the appearance was his repeated appeal to Congress not to undercut U.S. operations in Iraq until hearing from the top American commander General David Petraeus in mid-September.

Not everybody agrees with the strategy – but all understand what Mr. Bush was saying.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.