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The End Of An Adage

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
So "stay the course" will no longer be, um, staying the course within the Bush administration's rhetorical arsenal, a piece of news that's generating quite a bit of attention. And confusion, since it apparently changes nothing with regard to actual policy. It came up during the White House press briefing yesterday (yes, news is occasionally committed during these gatherings.) A reporter asked if there was a change in the administration's "stay the course" policy. Spokesman Tony Snow responded thusly: "No, the policy -- because the idea of 'stay the course' is you've done one thing, you kick back and wait for it. And this has always been a dynamic policy that is aimed at moving forward at all times on a number of fronts. …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."

And that begged for a follow up. Which came later.

Q Tony, it seems what you have is not "stay the course." Has anybody told the President he should stop calling it "stay the course" then?

MR. SNOW: I don't think he's used that term in a while.

Q Oh, yes, he has, repeatedly.

MR. SNOW: When?

Q Well, in August, because I wrote a story saying he didn't use it and I was quite sternly corrected.

MR. SNOW: No, he stopped using it.

Q Why would he stop using it?

MR. SNOW: Because it left the wrong impression about what was going on. And it allowed critics to say, well, here's an administration that's just embarked upon a policy and not looking at what the situation is, when, in fact, it's just the opposite. The President is determined not to leave Iraq short of victory, but he also understands that it's important to capture the dynamism of the efforts that have been ongoing to try to make Iraq more secure, and therefore, enhance the clarification -- or the greater precision.

Q Is the President responsible for the fact people think it's stay the course since he's, in fact, described it that way himself?

MR. SNOW: No.

Glad that got straightened out. As it happens, the president stopped using the phrase on Aug. 31, to be precise. The Washington Post documents the phase out:
"The characterization of, you know, 'it's stay the course' is about a quarter right," Bush complained at an Oct. 11 news conference. " '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."

By last week, it was no longer a quarter right. "Listen, we've never been stay the course, George," he 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."

At the Chicago Tribune's political blog, The Swamp, Mark Silva wonders how the new word choice squares with what the president has been saying about the war lately. He provides some examples. "We will fight, we will stay, and we will win in Iraq," said President Bush in Virginia Thursday evening. At a fundraiser on Friday: "My message to the United States of America is: Victory in Iraq is vital for the security of a generation of Americans who are coming up,'' Bush said. "And so we will stay in Iraq, we will fight in Iraq and we will win in Iraq.''

Writes Silva: "In other words: Stay the course."

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