Wanted: more candor from Bush

President Bush has been getting high marks in opinion polls for holding the country together. But he is still on a learning curve dealing with some of the frustrations of threats from undefined sources.

His remark Tuesday, after a meeting with congressional leaders, that "this country is too strong to allow terrorists to affect the lives of our citizens," has a Pollyanna ring to the many whose lives have been severely affected.

There is a reason for administration embarrassment: Political leaders and media celebrities were tested for anthrax, while postal workers - two of whom died - were not. But the president did not help that awkward situation when he perplexingly announced, "I don't have anthrax" - refusing to say whether he had been tested or taken Cipro.

It is not clear whom he intended to reassure when he said, "I'm going to work tomorrow, too."

The Justice Department has now released copies of three anthrax-contaminated letters to Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, NBC's Tom Brokaw, and the New York Post. They say, in block letters, "Death to America," "Death to Israel," and "Allah is great."

The FBI says that no link has been established between the letters and the Sept. 11 hijackings. But Mr. Bush ventured yesterday that "it wouldn't surprise me" if the Al Qaeda terrorist organization were behind the letters mailed from New Jersey.

The president talks of an "aggressive campaign overseas" to bring Al Qaeda to justice, and he is providing money to improve safety at post offices around the country. But the grim fact remains that the terrorist conspirators - both abroad and at home - have so far eluded a massive investigation.

In the face of such aggravation, one can understand Mr. Bush's eagerness to assure Americans that everything possible is being done.

But Americans are looking for more candor about the nation's grim situation than word that the president is healthy and that, even if a remote White House mail facility may show anthrax bacteria traces, the Oval Office does not.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst for NPR.

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