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MONDAY, APRIL 10, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Bush’s critics can help get presidency on right track

President Bush had the rare experience Thursday of receiving face-to-face candid criticism.

Harry Taylor, 61, a commercial real estate broker, got the chance to question the president in Charlotte, N.C., during the latest in a series of open forums the president is holding.

"You never stop talking about freedom, and I appreciate that," Mr. Taylor told him, as recounted by The Washington Post. "But while I listen to you talk about freedom, I see you assert your right to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me without charges, to try to preclude me from breathing clean air and drinking safe food. ...

"What I want to say to you is that I, in my lifetime, I have never felt more ashamed of, nor more frightened by, my leadership in Washington. ... I feel like, despite your rhetoric, that compassion and common sense have been left far behind during your administration."

Mr. Taylor told the president that "I would hope, from time to time, that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself."

The exchange was courteous on both sides, with Mr. Bush engaging in self-deprecating humor and urging the audience to let his critic speak. But you couldn't say he exercised the degree of humility and grace that Mr. Taylor was looking for.

The president offered no regrets and responded to only one issue: He said he wasn't going to apologize for surveillance of suspected terrorists.

Still, it had to be useful for the president to hear this heartfelt expression of distress about his leadership.

He should keep doing these forums. Previously he's been famous for insulating himself from critics during public appearances and for not welcoming dissenting advice from aides.

Maybe if he would listen, respond to his critics, and evaluate their ideas, he would find a way out of the hole he's dug for himself.

An Associated Press-Ipsos survey last week showed that nearly 70 percent of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and Mr. Bush's public approval rating has sunk to a new low of 36 percent. Other presidents have recovered from even lower ratings, but not without changing direction.

Mr. Bush will be president for 2½ more years. No right-thinking American wants him to fail. His critics could help him if he'd listen.

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