But the White House is cutting and running from “stay the course.” A phrase meant to connote steely resolve instead has become a symbol for being out of touch and rigid in the face of a war that seems to grow worse by the week, Republican strategists say. Democrats have now turned “stay the course” into an attack line in campaign commercials, and the Bush team is busy explaining that “stay the course” does not actually mean stay the course.
Instead, they have been emphasizing in recent weeks how adaptable the president’s Iraq policy actually is. Bush remains steadfast about remaining in Iraq, they say, but constantly shifts tactics and methods in response to an adjusting enemy. “What you have is not ‘stay the course’ but in fact a study in constant motion by the administration,” Snow said yesterday.
Political rhetoric, of course, is often in constant motion as well. But with midterm elections two weeks away, the Bush team is searching for a formula to address public opposition to the war, struggling to appear consistent and flexible at the same time. That was underscored by the reaction to a New York Times report that the administration is drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government to disarm militias and assume a larger security role. The White House initially called the story “inaccurate.” But then White House counselor Dan Bartlett went on CNN yesterday morning to call it “a little bit overwritten” because in fact it was something the administration had been doing for months.