President Bush's last answer at yesterday's press conference has got him into trouble. That's the one where he registered amazement at the prospect of $4/gallon gasoline. But on the question just before that, about the Beijing Olympics, I thought he actually gave the right, somewhat complex answer concisely and well.
Here was the question:
Q In China a former factory worker who says that human rights are more important than the Olympics is being tried for subversion. What message does it send that you're going to the Olympics, and do you think athletes there should be allowed to publicly express their dissent?
In his answer Bush confidently made the point that the Olympics had its own momentum and importance, but that respecting the event need not mean (as the Chinese government would wish) that the outside world must bite its collective tongue about political issues. And he also had a knowing aside about the particular leverage he had in raising such issues:
THE PRESIDENT: Olivier, I have made it very clear, I'm going to the Olympics because it's a sporting event, and I'm looking forward to seeing the athletic competition. But that will not preclude me from meeting with the Chinese President, expressing my deep concerns about a variety of issues -- just like I do every time I meet with the President.
And maybe I'm in a little different position. Others don't have a chance to visit with [President] Hu Jintao, but I do. And every time I meet with him I talk about religious freedom and the importance of China's society recognizing that if you're allowed to worship freely, it will benefit the society as a whole; that the Chinese government should not fear the idea of people praying to a god as they see fit. A whole society, a healthy society, a confident society is one that recognizes the value of religious freedom.
I talk about Darfur and Iran and Burma. And so I am not the least bit shy of bringing up the concerns expressed by this factory worker, and I believe that I'll have an opportunity to do so with the President and, at the same time, enjoy a great sporting event. I'm a sports fan. I'm looking forward to the competition. And each Olympic society will make its own decision as to how to deal with the athletes.
Recognizing the independent athletic (and spectacle) existence of the Olympics, and also their undeniable importance to China, but still speaking freely, plainly, and on live TV about the values the U.S. should stand for and the practices of China's it condemns -- to me, that's something like a policy. Credit where credit is due.