REALTIME PRESS CONFERENCE BLOGGING….These primetime press conferences don’t usually show off either George Bush or the press at their best. But maybe this one will be different. Maybe the reporters will ask short, specific questions instead of long rambling ones that allow Bush to respond any way he wants. Maybe they’ll hold off on the self-important introductory remarks. Maybe they’ll follow up on each others’ questions. And maybe Bush will actually say something substantive instead of just mouthing talking points and inanities.

Maybe. On with the show.

Final impressions ? Up until the very last question the press was a little better than in the past: less preening than usual and more pointed questions than usual.

Bush was relentlessly on message, but even more than normal he seemed like he wasn’t sure what to say. Lots of hesitations, lots of grasping for words, and absolutely no specifics.

I honestly don’t know how this kind of thing goes over with most people. Bush was, as usual, clear about staying the course in Iraq and clear about the threat of terrorism, but there was nothing new to announce, no real acknowledgment of serious problems, and no change of strategy. I wonder if he risks looking out of touch with what the public is seeing on the evening news every day?

9:25 ? “What’s the biggest mistake you made after 9/11?” Bush just froze. He couldn’t answer for literally 30 seconds. “I can’t come up with something under the pressure of the press conference.” Huh?

….Now he’s finally segued into the usual talking points about how bad Saddam was.

9:21 ? “I’ve got a plan to win the war on terror.” But what?

9:19 ? I don’t remember what the question was, but now he’s delivering a remarkably rambling reply about A.Q. Khan and Libya and how bad terror is.

Oh yeah, the question was something about preemptive war. His reply must have just been some talking points that he wanted to get in somewhere.

9:17 ? Bush sounds really hesitant and unsure of his words. Marian just got home and said he sounds even worse on radio.

9:15 ? Why are he and Cheney insisting on appearing together before the 9/11 commission? Absolutely evaded the question. He very clearly did not want to address this.

9:12 ? “We’re not going to leave. We’re going to do the job.” But how?

9:09 ? “Is there anything we could have done to stop the attacks?” Apparently not.

9:07 ? Edwin Chen just asked Bush if he took any action after seeing the August 6 PDB. Amazingly, he answered by mentioning that he was concerned about possible attacks after attending the Genoa G-8 conference. But that was the conference where the security people were concerned about a possible air attack by Osama bin Laden.

9:04 ? I know Bush isn’t a great speaker, but he’s really searching for words tonight. He seems very unsure of himself.

9:02 ? Softball question: is it a fair criticism that you never admit a mistake? Give me a break. What does he expect Bush to say?

8:55 ? A specific question about mistaken prewar assumptions: we’d be greeted as liberators, we knew where the WMD was, Iraqi oil would pay for the occupation. Absolutely no response at all. Just a rote speech about how dangerous Saddam was.

….Wait a second, now he’s sort of addressing the question. Maybe WMD is still there. (Huh?) And oil revenues are pretty good, really. And the Iraqi people are awfully glad we got rid of Saddam. No real acknowledgment of any mistaken assumptions.

8:53 ? If the generals in Iraq want more troops, they’ll get them. Whatever they want. He sounds very casual about it, though. The overall tone seems to be that we’ll just try a bunch of stuff until we get it right.

8:50 ? Opening statement over. “Consequences of failure in Iraq would be unthinkable.” But absolutely nothing specific at all, no acknowledgment that we need to do anything differently there, no acknowledgment that any additional resources are needed. Just the usual talk-talk about how resolute we are. Amazing.

8:45 ? Same old stuff about how Iraq is central to the war on terror. Is he planning to say anything new at all?

8:39 ? Still vague. If additional resources are needed, we’ll supply them. June 30 is still the deadline for turning over control. Surely he knows by now that additional resources are indeed needed?

8:34 ? Opening statement. There’s violence in Iraq this week, with an emphasis on “certain parts” of Iraq. Repudiated by most Iraqi clerics. Apparently he’s still trying to play it down.