Anyone seeking a better appreciation of the mindsets of President Bush, the man who led the nation into the Iraq quagmire, and Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, the man best prepared to lift it out, should scrutinize closely Bush’s news conference and Obama’s speech on Tuesday.

In his usual defiant, at times strident tone, the President conceded that the nation is “going through a tough time,” but there was no reason to worry. “The economy is growing, productivity is up,” Bush says. His assessment seemed other-worldly, if not out-of touch, considering the recent plethora of bad, breaking news that has smothered the confidence and diminished the cash resources of the average American family.

Bush proudly promoted his decision to lift the moratorium on off-shore drilling, but quickly suggested that the Democrats should be blamed if Congress doesn’t support his decision. Regardless, the President’s decision, if endorsed by Congress, would have little effect on the pain that we are feeling at the pump or in our pocketbooks. Bush says he’s sorry that we have to pay so much at the pump, but he insisted that life will get better.

People throughout these United States are losing their homes and jobs and paying more and more for gas and food. Banks and other lending institutions are faltering, leaving many folks in danger of losing their savings. Through it all, Bush offers half-hearted advice and no short-term solutions. On the economy, he says, “I’m not an economist, but I do believe we’re growing. I’m an optimist.”

But the clearest indication that Bush is in furlough-mode, just marking time, became apparent when the questions focused on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The question really facing the country is, will we have the patience and determination to succeed in these very difficult theaters,” he says. No mention of the five-year failure of his Iraq policy, and no concern expressed about the war’s cost – in lives or to our economy. He seemed concerned only about pointing a finger at someone else if history proclaims his $10 billion-a-month Iraqi war a failure. Obviously, it would be the American people’s fault for not wanting to continue to support an endless war that drains our resources and resolve with no clear strategy for success.

Minutes after the Bush news conference ends, Obama offered America a way out of the Iraq quagmire and a return to its position as a respected and admired leader of the free world. Obama says his opponent, GOP nominee Sen. John McCain – like Bush – presents a seriously flawed Iraq war policy. For example, he says McCain views the surge as a major strategy, not a battlefield tactic. “Senator McCain wants to talk of our tactics in Iraq; I want to focus on a new strategy for Iraq and the wider world,” he says. “This war diminishes our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy, and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century.”

Obama’s strategy for a new world consists of five phases:

(1) End the war in Iraq responsibly
(2) Finish the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban
(3) Secure nuclear weapons from terrorists
(4) Achieve energy security by investing in alternative sources of energy to grow economy, save planet and end the tyranny of oil.
(5) Rebuild old alliances, form new partnerships and renew international institutions to advance peace and prosperity to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Many of our pundits tell us that Bush moved into the White House, primarily because many voters believed he was someone they could envision shooting the breeze with over a few beers. Cable talk show host Joe Scarborough (Morning Joe) says that comfort-level again will be key in this presidential election. “Regardless of race or anything else, you can tell if a person is like you by shaking (his or her) hand,” he says.

Strange as it might seem, I don’t see why anyone would choose a president based on likeability. Would you choose a drinking buddy/friend over a mathematician to help you solve an algebraic equation? Lord help us if we again ignore the obvious – the best and brightest – with so much at stake.