In Economic Chats, Bush Finds People Eager to Pony Up Praise

Times Staff Writer

In his initial public appearances of this campaign year, President Bush has settled on a favorite format as he travels around the country pitching his economic policies. The White House calls it a “conversation,” although Bush speaks far more than he listens during the nearly hourlong sessions that amount to an economics seminar for Everyman.

At these events, like the one held here Monday, the president shares a stage with as many as half a dozen carefully screened participants, each perched on a stool and armed with a wireless microphone.

Bush makes some opening remarks and then turns the floor over to an emcee and the other guests, typically a couple of small-business owners and two or three workers. Without fail, they relate upbeat stories that reinforce the president’s economic program, especially his across-the-board tax cuts.

Their experiences supply Bush with testimonials to the effects of the tax cuts, which, the business owners say, have stimulated the purchase of new equipment and the employment of additional workers.


Such give-and-take allows Bush to burnish the image of a leader with an affable, common touch, in part by leavening his tutorials with a stream of quips, including some at his own expense.

On Monday, for instance, after noting that he had attended the Daytona 500 stock-car race the day before and later called to congratulate winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose late father was a NASCAR legend, Bush deadpanned: “There’s nothing wrong with a fellow following in his father’s footsteps.”

Democrats accuse the White House of stacking the deck in these “conversations” by including only people with positive stories to tell, and they argue that Bush is only hearing -- and presenting -- one side of the story.

In a conference call with reporters after Bush’s appearance, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) rued that the president had not spent sufficient time in the state to discern the true effect of his “misguided economic policies.”


If Bush had spent more time in Florida, Graham said, “he would have seen some of the suffering people, part of the 3 million Americans who have lost their jobs.” In Tampa, the senator said, 19,000 jobs have been lost, including more than 4,600 in manufacturing, since Bush became president.

Instead, Graham charged, “the president seems to go into a community, pick a facility where he knows he’ll get a good response, proclaim victory and go home.”

During his public remarks here, Bush all but acknowledged that the participants on stage were chosen precisely because they support his policies.

“But you’re going to say: ‘Well, of course, they just pick the upbeat people,’ ” Bush said. “Well, the truth of the matter is, people are pretty upbeat all over the country. That’s what I’m here to report to you.”


Monday’s setting was a gigantic warehouse on the outskirts of this bayside community, packed with hundreds of workers and small-business owners. Bush’s host was NuAir Manufacturing, a company with 350 employees that makes windows and aluminum doors for homes and has annual revenues of $25 million.

Connie Horner, the company’s president and the event’s emcee, credited Bush’s policies for a 35% increase in revenues over the last three years. She said NuAir hired 63 workers last year, planned to hire 40 more this year, and expected to invest $1 million in new equipment. Two other small-business owners told of similar expansion plans.

Bush wasted no time in sharing with his audience what he regarded as an important lesson in Economics 101. “When somebody demands an additional good or a service, somebody is likely to produce it. And when somebody produces a good or a service, somebody is more likely to find work,” he said, adding that “thousands” of entrepreneurs across America were making the same decision.

“Forty workers here, five workers there begin to add up to excitement and new jobs,” Bush said. “Good tax policy creates a ripple effect.”


Looming behind the president as he spoke were two signs bearing the phrase: “Strengthening America’s Economy.”

Given his administration’s perceived ties to corporate America, it’s no accident that the presidential “conversations” feature small-business owners and their employees. As Bush put it here: “See, if you’re worried about people working, and you realize most new jobs are created by small businesses, it makes sense to have policies that encourage small businesses to grow.” He said the tax cuts helped small businesses because so many of them are taxed at the individual income tax level.

The two workers in the spotlight, both parents, happily highlighted another benefit: Each saved $2,400 last year because of a new child tax credit provision, and talked about how they used the savings for their children.

One of them, Noemi Gonzalez, a NuAir accounting clerk, won the heartiest presidential approval of the day when she reported that her family used the extra funds for a family vacation -- to Texas.


"¡Que inteligente!” Bush said.