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Bush credibility gap - a slow, quiet crumble

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President Bush is not really an "issue guy." He never has been and probably never will be. As CEO of America Inc. - an image he likes to sell - he isn't one to get bogged down in minutiae. He's content to let an army of wonks go about their wonkery while he sits in the big office and oversees the big picture.

And for 2-1/2 years this model had served him well. People don't necessarily trust that George W. Bush knows and understands the workings of the EPA or the FCC or the Treasury, but they trust him to oversee it all fairly and honestly. This was, in fact, one of the primary reasons he won the presidency in the first place, in that unbelievably close election in 2000.

Many voters thought that former Vice President Al Gore, a member of troubled administration, had trouble telling the truth. Mr. Gore might have been more experienced and more knowledgeable about the workings of government, but Mr. Bush resonated with people as a down-to-earth guy they could trust.

In the past few weeks some questions have begun to arise about just how candid this White House is being in a variety of areas. The accusations aren't really of lying, per se, but rather they center on this administration's ability to give people the entire truth, the full picture of reality. Slowly and quietly, a credibility gap is opening, and this White House needs to be careful. If not, the gap may open wide enough to swallow up Bush's high poll numbers.

The highest-profile case concerns Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Not long ago these weapons were called the principal reason the United States went to war. Now, as days go by without any revelatory discoveries in Iraq, even members of the administration are backing away from talk of their existence.

Congress has begun closed-door hearings into whether the intelligence given to the White House was shaded to let the administration hear what it wanted. Last week, at a Monitor breakfast, former Congressman Lee Hamilton, himself once chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the intelligence reports he saw were almost always ambiguous and in this case the intelligence gathered was "probably used selectively." The question, of course, is by whom and at what level of command.

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