The President is standing face to face with NBC's Matt Lauer by the immaculate oak desk in the Oval Office, jabbing emphatically toward the Today anchorman's chest and insisting, "My job is to protect this country, Matt. And it gets second-guessed all the time by people who don't live in the United States." Lauer has interviewed Bush several times, and they have a convivial relationship, bonding about golf and bikes during breaks in the taping. But at the moment, Lauer is pressing the President on the legality of the CIA's secret detention program for accused terrorists. Lauer holds his ground on the big rug as the Commander in Chief edges forward, encroaching on his space to the point that Lauer finally puts a hand on Bush's forearm to prevent a collision. When the cameras are turned off, according to a witness, Lauer tells the President, "Whoa! I thought you were coming after me there." Aides to both men laugh. The President lightens too, but adds, "I feel really strongly about this subject."
Friends and staff members have maintained that Bush has been a Steady Eddie through the nearly ceaseless storms since his re-election, confident that history will treat him right and disinclined to sweat the day's headlines or chatter. But as he stares down one last campaign, the President suddenly seems to be all adrenaline and testosterone. It shows in his frenetic schedule and in his assertive choice of words but perhaps most especially in his body language as he tries to win over midterm voters by looking and sounding commanding--he's practically shaking voters by their lapels.
With the press, the President has been brimming over with restless energy. Rich Lowry of National Review, who was in a group of conservatives ushered onto the Oval Office couches and found the President to be "utterly self-assured," says the President nearly leaped out of his chair when he made some points. Lowry wrote that Bush untwisted what looked like a paper clip as he talked, "then twisted it around his finger until it was in a little bow." During a Rose Garden press conference, the President thrilled photographers with so many two-handed gestures--now up high, now out wide--that their motor drives could barely keep up.
During a day of chats just before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, ABC's Charles Gibson asked the President whether the nation's security would be harmed if Democrats carried the House this fall. "In my mind," Bush said, stabbing the air word by word with his pointer finger, "the Republican Party and its members are much better suited to defending this country." Then the two of them jumped into the armored Caddy. Bush leaned deeply against the Presidential Seal in the middle of the backseat as he handicapped the '06 races.